CommunityFDL Main Blog

The Waiting Game


Court has finished for the day.  And what an experience it has been of watching the arguments and counter-arguments, the objections and arguments thereon.  The case has gone to the jury, and it is now in their hands to decide the fate of I. Lewis Libby.  And now? 

We wait.

I have waited for my share of juries in my lifetime, both as defense counsel and as an assistant prosecutor.  I've waited with my clients, with the families of my clients, and with the families of victims of crimes and the police officers who investigated them.  Waiting for a jury is incredibly difficult, for everyone involved in a case.  But it is especially tough on the family and friends on both sides who know the defendant and/or the victim, because for them — whatever the verdict — it is so personal.

How could it not be, touching on something that has crashed into their lives, whichever side of the trial line they may fall on — and it can be very, very difficult to simply sit back and wait for the jury to make a decision. 

Most of the time, the defendant waits either at home or at the offices of his/her attorneys.  The prosecutors wait at their offices in the courthouse, sometimes along with the family of the victim (if you are dealing with something like a murder case) and almost always with the investigating officers who were involved in the case.  You wait through lunch.  You wait through dinner.  You wait sleeplessly until morning, and then through breakfast.  And you keep on waiting until your phone rings and someone at the judge's office tells you that the jury is back…and then you wait a little more to find out what the fate of your case will be.

Something that you should all know:  when the jury does come back with a verdict, we will find out quite a bit in advance that they have reached one.  The judge and his staff will notify the lawyers that a verdict has been reached, and they will be given time, along with the press and the public, to return to the courthouse — usually an hour and sometimes two, depending on the court's habit and practice.   So, just because we hear a verdict is reached, it may still be a while — as in more than an hour — before we learn what that verdict is. 

Once everyone is back at the courthouse, Judge Walton will enter the courtroom and then he will be followed shortly thereafter by the members of the jury.  The Judge will ask them on the record if they have reached a verdict, they will say yes, and they will then pass their written verdict form to the judge through a bailiff.  The judge will read the verdict to himself, pass it back to the bailiff, and it will be returned to the jury's foreperson — who will then read the jury's decision on each count individually, running in order as they were indicted initially by the grand jury.

The whole time, just about everyone in the courtroom will have been holding their breath.  At least, that is what it always feels like anyway.

But to get to that point, there is an awful lot of waiting.  Some juries take only a few hours to render a verdict.  I have had to deal with one that deliberated for over a week.  Some juries are quick, some are slow — and you can never tell going into a case and a deliberation period what you are going to have to deal with on the waiting end of things.

So, I'm going to pass along a few of the ways that I've learned to keep myself busy in the meantime — or shake out the nerves in the privacy of my own home — while the jury is sifting through the evidence, the testimony and the law.

— Find some things to read that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything serious.  For me, it's always been a pile of gardening magazines or gardening/landscaping books, or books about decorating the house.  Or pretty much any fiction — especially some genre fiction that can transport me into a whole other way of thinking while I wait.  Some of my favorite series, luckily, have new books out at the moment (or newish ones if you, like me, haven't gotten close to your "to read" pile in weeks), and I've been saving them up for this verdict week.  If you haven't read any David Coe or any George R.R. Martin, it's a good time to introduce yourself to their work — if you happen to be an SFF reader who likes great characterization and interesting plots in fantasy novels.  Great stuff.  (Full disclosure here:  David Coe is a dear, dear friend of mine, who happens to be one of the most amazing writers that I know.  And I did an interview of George Martin a few years ago for a British SFF magazine, and I adore his writing.  But I wanted you guys to know up front that I have a personal connection with both of them — as well as loving their writing styles.  I would die happy if I could ever write even half as well as George does on a bad day.)  If you have a favorite fiction book that you've been reading lately — something that you think would make for some great escapist reading while you hit the refresh button waiting for a verdict, please share your suggestions in the comments.

— Put on some great music — soothing, new age, kick ass metal, whatever makes you happy at the moment.  Dance around the room, and shake out the nerves and the accumulated funk.  Of course, this comes with the caveat of "don't try this at the office," unless of course you work at a really open and fun place.  Or your boss had a five martini lunch.

— Pull out a favorite cookbook and make a whole dinner from scratch.  Nourish yourself and your family, make something wonderful and have fun as you cook it for the folks that you love — including for yourself.  Go on, you deserve something wonderful and yummy, and made with your own two hands.

— Or, there is always the old stand-by:  catch up on all that work that's been piling up while you've been dealing with the trial.  I used to always walk back into my office and find a huge pile in the in-box.  Blech.  It's not fun, but it is at least productive.

— Watch some movies.  The sillier, the better, in my opinion — I tend to go for a goofy comedy in this sort of situation.  Lots of Monty Python in my practice days.  If you have some great fun movies — or some really diverting tv series (Buffy comes to mind for me — snark galore.) – please share your favorites in the comments.

How do you handle a long wait?  Any suggestions of a good book, a great magazine article, a fun blog or website, some relaxing music, your favorite recipe?  Anything at all — do share in the comments. 

(Is the jury back yet?)

Previous post

Jury Instructions and Free Form Liveblog

Next post

To CWA: Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com