New York Federal Judge Assumes Role of Thought Police?

New York Federal judge Nicholas Garaufis did not like the way a woman answered her juror questionnaire for a death penalty trial of an alleged mobster, saying that her three “least admired” people were “African-Americans, Hispanics, and Haitians” because “You always hear about them in the news doing something”.

When the Asian-American woman was confronted about her relative who was in prison for murder and asked why she didn’t put Asians down as one of her Big Three, she responded with “Maybe I should have.”

The enraged judge declared that, for jury duty, “She’s coming back [today], Thursday and Friday – and until the future, when I am ready to dismiss her,” even though she wont actually be on the jury. Apparently as an indefinite sentence of jury duty as punishment for her answers to the questions posed to her.

Judge Garaufis:
Image of a gray-haired white man wearing a striped dark gray suit with an orange tie, and glasses.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

A few things come to mind regarding this. First, the entire situation is hilarious. The classic “say ridiculous things on your jury questionnaire to get out of jury duty” scheme, the possibility that the 20-something Asian-American Seamstress may actually think like this, the judge’s blatant abuse of his own authority, and that she forgot to mention her disliking of Italians (the defendant’s name is Vincent Basciano).

The next thing that comes to mind is what must have gone through the judges head. Two possibilities are likely.

The first possibility is that the judge believes that the woman actually does believe these things she wrote down and said. In that case, if the judge didn’t want to know then he shouldn’t have asked. In America, we generally believe in the principal of freedom of speech and we almost universally believe that people should not be punished for the feelings (such as dis-admiration and contempt) they hold. We may attempt to persuade others away from holding negative feelings towards a broadly defined and diverse group (such as Hispanics or African-Americans), but we will not deprive them of freedom for having these feelings. It is important to remember that this woman did not go out of her way to preach her feelings on the subjects – the questions were posed to her, and she answered. The judge punishing the woman for holding a set of beliefs and answering questions about them honestly is beyond preposterous, so the answer to the question “[is this] New York Federal Judge assuming the role of thought police?” is almost certainly a “no”. Because, unlike the judge, I believe in the presumption of innocence, I will assume the woman is not being punished for her feelings.

The second and much more likely possibility is that the judge believed the woman to be playing the “say ridiculous things to get out of jury duty” game, and that the judge believed this would be an effective way to discourage such behavior. The message sent would be, “Jurors, your choice is as follows: say ridiculous things and waste lots of time doing nothing, or do not say ridiculous things, and spend an equal amount of time participating in the judicial system as a good citizen. The time cost to you will be identical; make your choice.”

If this is the case, and it probably is, then the judge is either a mind reader or he seems to have forgotten about the presumption of innocence. We established that the judge does not believe himself to be the mind reading thought police above. That means he is making a guess about the woman’s motives. The judge ought to know that even if she probably did have dishonest motives for answering the questions, we don’t punish people for probably being guilty. Yet, this judge has acted unilaterally and deprived this woman of her freedom in a manner that the woman has no right to legal defense, recourse, or appeal. Even if she is released from jury duty after a time, she will not be able to get that time back – it is lost to her forever. And let’s not kid ourselves: she isn’t actually doing a civic duty at this point – there is zero chance of her being on that jury. She will simply be sitting in the courtroom doing absolutely nothing.

If we, as a society, want to remove the motive for answering juror questionnaires in an intentionally provocative manner, then we should do so by requiring all jurors to attend the trial until it is over even after they have been disqualified from the jury. It would anger a lot of people, and it would be foolish, but it would be more equitable and less-crappy than the precedent being established by the NY judge in question. This precedent simply states that clever dishonesty is to be rewarded with a free pass from jury duty, whereas obvious dishonesty is to be punished without mercy.

(A bit of dry satire and self-deprecation incoming.) Her vocation is semi-skilled labor, we should not be surprised if it shows. Of course her comments are crass, it’s been the same with every job I’ve ever had in a semi-skilled labor work environment. We expect construction workers to comment amongst themselves at an attractive woman walking by, do we not?

Elanor Roosevelt put it well, when she said that

“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”

That doesn’t mean that this woman or those construction workers or Marines are all bad people, it means we are all affected by our work environment and the type of jobs we do. We can either accept it at face value, or live in a world without form-fitting dresses on attractive women, buildings of complex construction, and US Marines. As someone who is appreciative of form-fitting dresses on attractive women, someone who enjoys having a roof over his head, and as a former Marine, I say thank god for seamstresses that are bitter at the world, don’t give a damn for anything that takes them away from productive work, and aren’t afraid to show it! Here is an American Flag and an Apple Pie for good measure:

Sterile image of Old Glory

mmmm, Apple Pie... I should ask my girlfriend to bake me one.
(Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Had she been selected for the jury, does anyone doubt that she would have held an emotional grudge against the defendant, who’s alleged crimes are now taking money out of her pocket (to her)?

To pick on this single woman simply for having the intellectual integrity to be more obvious about the “ridiculous things to get out of jury duty” game than others is silly, and a corruption of the institution of jury duty. In essence, the judge’s decision boils down to “You want to corrupt the jury duty system? Fine, I’ll corrupt it more.” The woman is simply a common seamstress, but the federal judge ought to know better. And yes, a double standard is absolutely in place here – society has entrusted the judge with life-or-death decision making, whereas the seamstress has been entrusted by society with making women look sexy. Both are clearly important, but I’ll have to give a slight edge to the judge in terms of the importance of what society has entrusted him with.

The judge is acting like a child. He should offer sincere apologies to the woman and send her on her way, or he should be removed from the bench.

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New York Federal Judge Assumes Role of Thought Police?

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