(CHEYENNE) El Paso County Courthouse
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The entrance of the El Paso County Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex on Tejon Street reflects the Pioneers Museum across the street. Edition freelance reporter Norma Engelberg recently sat on a jury in a family law case at the courthouse and recalls her experience participating in our judicial system.

File photo by Carol Lawrence

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The 4th Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties, sent me a jury summons in late November and my first thought was “Oh rats!” Yes, “rats” is one of my favorite “curses.”

I filled out the questionnaire asking about my citizenship status and county of residence, whether I was a nursing mother (not anymore), had I served on a jury in the past year and other things that might have excused or disqualified me. There was also a second brief questionnaire.

The night before Jury Day, I called the number provided. Instead of saying “don’t bother to show,” a recorded message told me when to arrive, where to park and where to report.

The message also warned that lines would be long — they were.

After going through security, we waited for the jury check-in room to open, then stood in line, turned in our questionnaires and picked up a longer questionnaire.

This one asked us what kinds of books we read, TV shows we watch and music we listen to. We listed our hobbies, clubs and experiences we’ve had with courtrooms.

I explained that I was a witness in a civil case several decades ago, that I tend to be overly trusting but also that I know witnesses lie under oath and that some judges are biased. Let’s just say that long-ago experience left a mark.

On a board in front of the room there was a list of judges. While we were filling out the questionnaire, courtroom clerks came in and erased the names of judges who didn’t need juries that day.

We watched an 18-minute video — “Colorado Jury Duty: What to Expect” — available on YouTube. The clerks called our jury numbers and names and we followed them to the various divisions. I ended up in Division 2 along with about 24 other prospective jurors.

Judge David Prince explained that the United States puts more emphasis on jury service as a civic duty than any other country in the world, including “Jolly Old England” where the concept originated.

He said everyone stands when the judge enters the courtroom but they also “all-rise” when the jurors enter in respect for their service.

Prince introduced the courtroom clerk, Miss Lu, the plaintiff, the defendant and their attorneys. He explained that seven of us would be chosen — six regulars and one alternate — but we wouldn’t know who the alternate was until the end. He told us we were not to discuss the case until the trial was over.

He also said Colorado is fairly progressive. It allows jurors to take notes during trials. Some jurors didn’t take any but, no surprise, I took several pages. Colorado also allows jurors to submit questions to the judge, who might or might not ask them of the witness.

Prince asked us questions, then each attorney asked us more questions. I explained again my courtroom experience and Prince assured me that what happened to me then wouldn’t happen in his courtroom.

Once the Q-and-A was over, the attorneys eliminated jury candidates for various reasons or “just because” until there were seven of us left. We were dismissed to the jury room where Miss Lu gave us our notebooks and our purple “Div. 2 Jury” buttons.

The plaintiff was a family-law attorney, the defendant was one half of a contentious divorce. The marriage dissolution took place in 2014.

In her breach of contract case, the plaintiff said the defendant owed her $6,500. He said he only owed $1,000. With no settlement in sight, they each lawyered up. Four years later, after mandatory arbitration failed, they both ended up in court.

When the trial started, each juror received a binder full of plaintiff exhibits, including the attorney’s contract, invoices, payment histories and a few selected emails.

After each attorney’s opening statements, the plaintiff’s side went first. She testified first, followed by her expert witness.

Then it was the defendant’s turn. We were sent home at 5 p.m. and heard the rest of his testimony the next morning. Then his expert witness testified.

When both sides rested their cases around 11 a.m., the judge went over jury instructions and said the attorneys agreed to let us remain a seven-member jury.

After closing statements, we adjourned to the jury room, chose a jury foreman and started our deliberations over lunch. It took two hours to decide who owed whom what and at what interest rate.

We sent a question to the judge asking if we could set the interest at zero percent. He said the interest rate had to be “reasonable,” which we took to mean that zero was “unreasonable.”

We discussed minimum and maximum payments and how both parties made mistakes. We also decided his expert witness was more informative than hers. We ended up splitting the difference and set the interest at 8 percent.

Since neither of them seemed happy with our verdict, we figured we made the right decision. The trial probably cost them a lot more than settling would have.

After the trial, Prince met us in the jury room to thank us for our service and Miss Lu gave us each a frame-able certificate.

Since the judge was interested in Revolutionary War history, I asked if he had read “The March of Folly” by Barbara Tuchman.

It’s about the “folly” of people (and governments) acting against their own self-interest. There was a chapter on King George III and how if Britain had had a clue, we’d all still be singing “God Save the Queen.”

I thought the book’s premise was apropros to the case we had just finished — the folly of two people who should have known better.

Norma Engelberg is a freelance reporter for Pikes Peak Newspapers. Send your guest column submissions for print consideration to hannah.blick@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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