(234) Jury Duty

I once served on a Federal Grand Jury for two years.

I got called in the summer of 1979. The gig was for eighteen months. My boss was not happy about this and threatened to fire me. I told the attorney general, and he made sure my boss understood the huge fine that would be imposed if they fired me. From the demeanor of my boss after that, I know the conversation had unnerved him. I never got any more grief after that.

It was a convenient journey for me to the Federal Court House in downtown Cleveland. This was my earliest memory of having to go through metal detectors. A year or two previous to that, Federal Judge Battisti had ruled the Cleveland schools had to integrate, causing some serious death threats against the man. It felt kind of weird and exciting to be part of this.

I recall the jury selection. One woman got out because her husband had died and she was all alone running the company that supported her family. Another woman got out because she was a public school teacher. A private school teacher had a harder time getting out of it, but she had a physical disability, so they finally gave in. You can only get out of this type of jury duty if you are over 75 and live over an hour away, unless there were some extenuating circumstances. That is what they told us, anyway.

We were going to be a jury seated to hear testimony in RICO cases — Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. They told us that meant white collar crime. I would soon come to understand that meant organized crime. This experience taught me that the stuff you see in movies and on The Sopranos — all true, true, true.

At the time, there had been a war going on between the Italian mafia on the east side of Cleveland and the Irish mafia on the west. The east had nailed the lead man in the Irish mob — Danny Green — by blowing him up when he started his car in the parking lot of a medical center in South Euclid. That had been a year or two before, yet throughout the various testimonies we heard, Danny Green’s name would come up again and again. A movie was made about Green in 2011: Kill the Irishman.

Our jury group met on an average of three days a month. We were paid by the day, plus our transportation. This actually ended up working better for me financially.

I think we were usually there from 9-3, with at least an hour for lunch. There was a jury all_my_childrenlounge and a cafeteria. We all got into watching the soap opera All My Children since it was on during our break. I became friendly with another young woman my age — Shelley — who had a pet skunk. There were people of all ages.

Mostly, it was boring. In fact, one time a witness called out the jury, pointing out that we weren’t even listening. It is true. Some of the elderly ladies knitted. Some people slept or read magazines. I probably zoned out quite a bit myself. No one took notes, like you always see on TV. But there was a reason for that. We would hear testimony on stuff that we had no context for at all. Things about call centers and baseball gambling rings. Most of the time, we never heard about those things again. I recall one young lady testifying who had gone into great debt on the shady baseball betting to help her brother who was going through a divorce. She worked at a hospital, and the loan sharks were calling her boss looking for payment. Another young woman about my age talked about walking with her boyfriend up to her apartment and shots being fired at them — again, connected to gambling debt. It was crazy.

I realized I had led a very sheltered life.

Most of the mobby looking guys all wore the same expensive looking silk suits, had their hair slicked back, and had the same attorney. I always remember one doofus, who wanted to plead the Fifth, kept saying, “I plead the Fifth so I don’t discriminate against myself.” It was hard to stifle a laugh. Finally, the federal attorney had to tell him he was saying it wrong.

But eventually things started to move in a clearer direction. This was near the end of our tenure, so they got a judgment to keep us on an additional six months. The legal eagles were getting close to seeking an indictment.

And indict we did — one Tommy Sinito — a loan shark and a man who had been involved in a plot to assassinate Cleveland’s mayor at one time. We didn’t hear anything on the assassination, as that whole thing died when the mayor didn’t get re-elected. But Sinito was running a loan sharking business out of an appliance store in Euclid, and he was going down.  Read about Sinito here.

The article says: “Sinito was convicted in the early 1980s of federal drug charges, conspiracy, tax-evasion and loan sharking.”  I only remember indicting him on loan sharking, but perhaps the other charges were in there as well.

I always feel my two years served should suffice for the rest of my life. Of course, that’s not the case.

A few years ago I got called to jury duty in downtown Ft. Myers. I was surprised to find that public school teachers aren’t on the list of people who can automatically be dismissed. I figured if it was good enough for the Feds, why not for the city?

Eventually we all serve in one way or another. The best we can hope for is for are some juicy stories and a realization that a sheltered life is not such a horrible thing.


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