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YOUR WORD

Jul 18, 2004

By JIM CLARK
Special to the Register

The editorial pages of the Mobile Register frequently contain the opinions of Skip Tucker, executive director of Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse, who typically argues or implies that: 1) lawyers who represent injured people are bad; 2) lawyers who represent big corporations and insurance companies are good; 3) our jury system is bad; and 4) people who serve on juries are stupid and inept.

I would like to speak in defense of citizens who serve on juries, and of our jury system in general.

It is a citizen's civic duty to serve on a jury when called. Jurors who serve in state court proceedings are paid a tiny amount for their time and service on the jury -- barely enough to cover gas, parking and a modest lunch.

Many citizens suffer financially and personally by serving as jurors. Self-employed jurors may endure disruption to their business and loss of income. Wage-earners may also suffer financial loss.

Homemakers may be pulled away from their children and may even have to incur childcare expenses in order to serve.

There are other "negatives" that go with service on a state court jury, but the most outrageous "negative" is the vicious abuse that gets heaped on jurors who reach conclusions unfavorable to immensely rich and powerful corporations like Exxon-Mobil.

As most Alabamians know by now, the state of Alabama sued Exxon-Mobil. After hearing all the testimony and examining all the evidence, the jury concluded that Exxon-Mobil committed fraud against the people of Alabama.

Consequently, the jury punished Exxon-Mobil for its fraud by returning a judgment for punitive damages. This case was overturned on a technicality.

The state of Alabama sued Exxon-Mobil a second time, with a new and different jury. This second jury reached the same conclusion as the first: that Exxon-Mobil committed fraud against the people of Alabama.

Exxon-Mobil either did, or did not, commit fraud against the people of Alabama. Two separate juries concluded that it did. Yet the editorial pages of the Mobile Register have recently included letters and editorials that portray Exxon-Mobil as a poor little victim, while casting aspersions on the jurors.

Indeed, Skip Tucker proclaimed that the decision of the jurors was an "awful travesty" and their verdict was "ridiculous" and "almost criminal." The jurors were implicitly branded as robbers.

It seems to me that the real robbers and criminals in this Exxon-Mobil matter are the corporate executives who committed fraud against the people of our state.

Whining is usually irritating, but it is especially irritating when it comes from rich and powerful businesses and their propagandists. Instead of whining, perhaps they should rejoice that so few corporate executives go to prison, even though fraud appears to be increasingly common among corporate executives.

We owe a debt of thanks to our fellow citizens who serve on juries, especially those whose service requires financial sacrifice or personal hardship.

The right to trial by jury is one of the most precious rights we have. May we treasure and protect it.

Jim Clark is a retired investigator with the U.S. Treasury Department. He lives in Mobile. The Register welcomes submissions for "Your Word" on topics of general interest. Essays should contain about 650 words and be mailed to: "Your Word," P.O. Box 2488, Mobile, Ala. 36652.

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