Dec 5, 2013
A Closer Look at Citizen Whitman
Posted on Sep 9, 2010
Meg Whitman, the former eBay empress, is the Republican candidate running for governor of California. We can only assume she wants that office so she can provide a public service for the citizens of California. Surely, then, it is reasonable to look back at her history of fulfilling public obligations as a California citizen. In doing so we can measure whether her current commitment to public service matches her record of participation in some public spheres of citizenship in the Golden State.
Shirking Jury Service
This week new insight into her attitudes toward public service emerged. Whitman was summoned as a potential juror for a child molestation prosecution in the Superior Court of San Mateo County, where she maintains a home in the tony Bay Area suburb of Atherton. The case was People v. Tarquin Craig Thomas. Thomas, a 44-year-old British citizen, is accused of molesting three boys.
When called into the jury box for voir dire examination as a prospective juror, Whitman virtually invited her own challenge:
Not surprisingly, Whitman’s declaration of her future attention deficit produced a quick “thank you and you are excused”—the result she sought. Any prosecutor, defense attorney or judge would quickly dismiss a prospective juror who asserted that she could not give her full attention and energy to serving on the jury. If a working-class prospective juror made such an assertion about an inability to focus on the case for personal reasons, it might not be deemed contemptuous, but it could surely draw a chastising admonition or “how dare you” lecture from some judges.
By prompting her excusal from the public service of being a juror, Whitman ducked out of participation in the judicial process in which all the citizens of California have an interest. One can only wonder what the defendant or families of any of the victims in the courtroom thought about the importance of Whitman’s campaign schedule when compared with the importance to the community of the trial that was about to commence.
Whitman’s transparently engineered “pass” on jury service provides a compelling point of contrast with her opponent, former Gov. Jerry Brown. Whitman has spent tens of millions on political commercials hammering Brown with accusations about various “failures” in his lengthy political life and various elective offices.
But there was one small, historical public service in Brown’s heyday I doubt we will see referenced in Whitman’s television ads: the day in 1981 when, as the sitting governor of the largest state of the union, Jerry Brown reported to a courtroom for jury service. Unlike Whitman professing an incapacity to serve (due to her campaign to become governor), Brown who was governor sat on the jury and even served as the jury’s foreperson.
Certainly it can be debated whether high political officeholders should serve in courtrooms as jurors during their term in office. The public may view such service as a demonstration of the principle that no one is above the law. In professing our commitment to the rule of law for everyone in our justice system, there is an attendant obligation for everyone to serve (when selected) in its administration. And it is important that all citizens bear the same risk of having to interrupt their busy schedules of work and family when their name is called by the courtroom clerk.
Back in 1981, some observers may have thought Brown’s service as a juror in a trial seemed like a bit of public grandstanding by the quirky and youthful governor who relished using a “common man” Plymouth state car and invited reporters to the sparsely furnished apartment he chose over living in the governor’s mansion. Maybe it was just cloth-coat showmanship by Jerry Brown. But in retrospect, a busy governor who journeyed to a county courthouse to sit and await his possible selection from the jury wheel—like any other citizen called to assist the justice system in which we all have a stake—seems like a symbolic gesture of political equality with the citizens who elected him that was well worth making. Meg Whitman apparently is not interested in making such a gesture.
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