Monday, April 2, 2012

Accidental Felon

I'm thinking about changing the name of my blog to The Accidental Felon. I keep breaking the law, sort of accidentally, and just barely missing being sent to the Big House.


You might remember that I blogged about my experiences on jury duty a couple of years ago. Well, apparently, that was a Gigantic Potentially Felonious Mistake (GPFM). Even though I did not give away any details about the case, and did not consult any outside sources, once the case was over, the defense used my blog as one of their reasons for appeal. They wanted to interview the jurors to see if my blogging had in any way tainted them. The judge said no. They appealed, and the appeals court said no.

I got a call from a reporter at the Chicago Tribune wanting to talk to me about the case and my blog. I said, sure, dude, just call me back over my lunch hour. Meanwhile, being completely ignorant about what had been happening on the case, I started googling it.

Holy friggin' crap. I discovered my name and the name of my blog and quotes from my blog in the appeals court documents. They used words like "juror misconduct" and "tainted" and "contempt." I immediately called a friend of mine who is a lawyer, and said, Perry Mason, I think I might be in trouble. I explained the sitch to him, and he said, "Do not talk to any reporters. Do not talk about the case. Do not mention my name. Just shut up." He also told me that, had the judge found out about the blogging during the case, he could have cited me for contempt and tossed me in the clink for six months without a trial. "You put your fellow jurors at risk," he said ominously.

Crap.

The story appeared in the Trib that weekend. "E. Peevie, freelance writer and mother of three, ..." it read--only it was my real name, thank you very much.

A couple of weeks later, I got a direct message on Twitter from Channel Five asking me to call or email Phil Rogers. I ignored it. The next day, they DMed me again, saying that Phil wanted to talk to me about the Metra case. I ignored it. Perry Mason would have been proud.

But then I got a phone call on my office phone from...wait for it...Phil Rogers. "E. Peevie," he said in a friendly voice, "This is Phil Rogers from Channel Five News. I've been trying to reach you."

"Um, yeah, Phil, I know who you are. I can't talk to you."

 
"Well," he said, "I'm doing a story on the Metra case, and I'm going to be mentioning your name and talking about your blog, and I wanted to give you a chance to respond."

"Thank you," I said. "You've given me a chance to respond, and I have declined it. I can't talk to you."

 
"But E. Peevie," he said, "We both went to Oklahoma State! Isn't that worth something? I just want to ask you a few questions." He had done his homework.

"Yeah," I said, "I knew that. But I still can't talk to you."

 
He asked me a couple more questions which I declined to answer, and finally I steeled myself to do the right thing. "I don't like to be rude, Phil," I said, "But I am going to have to hang up on you now." And I did. Perry Mason reminded me later that I should have just said "No comment" and hung up.

That night, on the five o'clock news, there was my giant face on the small blue screen. They had taken my photo from my Twitter account--which BTW is not a lovely photo AT ALL--and attached it to the story. And they showed still shots of my blog, and highlighted key portions where I had written about the trial. My friend Phil Rogers used phrases like "in defiance of a judge's admonitions not to discuss the case."

Now that the Supremes have finished exonerating me, I am finally able to say that there was no intentional defiance or contempt. I thought I was being very careful to obey the judge's instructions--I was not discussing the case, just writing in general terms. Phil Rogers inaccurately said that I discussed specific testimony--but I only discussed the effect of the testimony on the witness, and did not quote specific testimony on the blog.

I am a story-teller, and I told a story. Yes, it's true that we occasionally lapsed into very brief discussions of the case while we were in the jury room--but every time, one of us would remind the group that we were not supposed to be doing it, and we stopped. I am confident that this happens in every single trial--and most importantly, my blog described it, but did not cause it.

And guess what? Sometime after the verdict against Metra was reached, the instructions that judges give to jurors were revised to include specific references to social media. That tells me that they are admitting that their instructions were previously inadequate. (My friend Officer Friendly likes to call this The Peevie Rule. I am not amused.)

I guess the state won't be calling me to jury duty again any time soon. Rats.

4 comments:

Leslie Wolf said...

So, Phil Rogers is a cowboy too? Huh.

Seriously, I can't believe that you nearly got in so much trouble for blogging about the case. I wonder what the other Peevies had to say about all this.

E. Peevie said...

LW--The most senior Peevie had anxiety about it. I think the reactions of the younger Peevies ranged from disinterest to intrigue to hilarity.

And BTW, I misspoke about the Supremes--they didn't exactly exonerate me, they merely declined to hear the case.

Phew.

Kari. said...

yowza!

Moses Butcher said...

Wow. This is something else.