Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Gains Firsthand Look at Jury's Duty

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Gains Firsthand Look at Jury's Duty

Article excerpt

Associate Judge Jan V. Fiss has sometimes wished he could be in the jury room listening to deliberations. This week he got his chance - but as a juror.

Fiss showed up for jury duty in circuit court in Belleville ready to serve. On Tuesday, he was selected for a 12-member panel that heard a drug case. And then he was chosen as the panel's foreman.

And how did the deliberations conclude? In a hung jury.

Folks around the courthouse were joking Wednesday that the case had given new meaning to the term "hanging judge."

"I was in a no-win situation," Fiss said good-naturedly. "If there's an acquittal, I'm too liberal. If it's a conviction, I'm too prosecution-oriented."

Fiss said that from the start of deliberations, signs of a deadlock emerged.

After more than 2 1/2 hours of debate, he asked "for the umpteenth time, `Is another vote going to do any good?'

"Everyone agreed it was hopeless," he said.

Even so, Fiss said, he values the experience.

"Every judge and lawyer has wanted to be that `fly on the wall' and hear what goes on in jury deliberations," he said.

Illinois law used to exempt judges from jury duty, along with people of various other occupations, including journalism.

That was changed a few years ago.

In Missouri, judges and lawyers are not allowed to serve on juries. Foreigners and people who do not live in Missouri also are not allowed to serve.

"Now I think it's pretty much across the board," Fiss said.

Still, he was dumbfounded when neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney excused him. He would actually hear the case from the jury box rather than his customary seat on the bench.

"I've never heard of a judge getting selected," he said. "Lawyers get picked once in a while, but even that's rare. …

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