WERE IT TONIGHT'S late show on local television -- rather than an actual wacky scene the other day in D.C. Superior Court -- it might have won a solid three-star rating and prominent placement in the listings of the week's movie highlights: Temperance Fugit (1943). Comedy. * * * Margaret Rutherford, Billie Burke and Adolphe Menjou. Two zany women tipplers court trouble and laughs on a jury when they mix nips and quips to tie up a case, polish off a bottle and mortify their foreman (1 1/2).
But no, to the collective dismay of the entire downtown bench, the story is true; only the names of the jurors will be changed to protect the innocent -- and anyone else connected with the case the second time around. As reported by staff writer Benjamin Weiser, Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast turned out to have an unusual case on his hands when a jury of 11 women and their male foreman couldn't reach a verdict in the trial of three juveniles charged in a rape case. The case was serious, but two of the jurors weren't -- they were having too good a time lacing cups of 7-Up with a little good stuff from their purses.
The burden of proof turned out to be on Judge Ugast, who received a note from foreman Robert W. Smoot which read, "Your Honor, we cannot reach a decision in this case unless two jurors are replaced. Is that possible?" Scribbled at the bottom of the note was the kicker: "Drinking problem." The judge ordered a round of questioning. When 10 of the jurors each fingered the same two colleagues as the ones who were tippling, the judge declared a mistrial.
Not every jury has to be sequestered, but snockered is another matter; jury duty is a sober business, and that, we hasten to add, is how it is normally conducted in D.C. Superior Court. In this case, it just took a while before anyone in that jury room checked those cups and happened to find two colleagues in them