During four days of testimony in a lawsuit against former Redskins football star Larry Brown this week, one juror rarely looked at the witnesses, lawyers or the judge. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the lips of a man sitting next to her who carefully mouthed each word spoken.
The Montgomery County Circuit Court juror, Barbara Chertok of Bethesda, was the first hearing-impaired person in Maryland history to sit on a jury. Coincidentally, the defendant in the case, Brown, has hearing difficulties and played all of his football career with a hearing aid.
An interpreter hired by the county, Dick Dirst, relayed the court's proceedings to Chertok, who can speak fluently with her own voice, but lip-reads the conversations of others.
Dirst accompanied the jurors while they deliberated. He had been sworn by Judge Rosalyn B. Bell to make accurate interpretations and not to interject his own ideas about the case.
"I was very happy to be able to serve as a juror," said Chertok, 46, a widow and the mother of two teen-agers. "It is very important that the public know that a disabled person is just as capable of sitting on a jury as anyone else."
James A. Pearo, jury commissioner of the Montgomery County Circuit Court, said Chertok is the only one of some 30 hearing-impaired persons called to jury duty in the last four years who has served.
"In two instances, the hearing-impaired individuals told us that even with an interpreter, they could not successfully sit as jurors," said Pearo. The others entered the jury pool, but were not selected.
"Most of the time attorneys are very leery about having that third person in the jury room when they the jurors are deliberating," Pearo said.
Pearo said interpreters' $15-per-hour costs are paid from the $285,000 allocated for jury fees this year.
Chertok, who lost her hearing as a result of a virus when she was 21, said she was one of only two jurors who felt the plaintiff, Harry Selby Scaggs, deserved some money. Scaggs was awarded $2.
"I couldn't sympathize with him completely . . . ," she said. "At the same time, I couldn't excuse Mr. Brown for inflicting injury on someone."