Jun 05, 2017
Jury Duty, Active Duty, and a Lawyer's Duty
Jun 05, 2017
By Dorothy Chou Proudfoot
A big thank you to Immediate Past President Larry Strick for arranging for Dr. Larry Brilliant to speak at our May General Membership meeting. I did not know Dr. Brilliant personally; I had only read the Wikipedia summary of his education, experiences, and accomplishments, and I was curious to see how he would inspire us to go outside our comfort zone and do good in the world.
I was not expecting to meet him until the morning of the meeting, but in early May, I was starting a trial which was expected to last most of the month, and in a quirky little coincidence, as I scanned the list of names in the venire, I saw the name Lawrence Brilliant. He did not ultimately end up on our jury, but he did make it very clear he was willing to serve as a juror.
Fast forward to the end of the month: as I talked with Dr. Brilliant just before the General Membership meeting started, he reiterated that he would have been very happy to serve, and actually wanted to be on the jury. I was enchanted by his good attitude. This internationally-renowned philanthropist who helped eradicate smallpox forever, whose ongoing work literally has global impact, also believes in doing one's civic duty in a single criminal case. As he talked about the challenges with the modern pandemics facing the world population, it was clear that he is already a hero, but being grounded and connected to the local community elevates his stature even more in my eyes.
In what I thought would be a completely unrelated experience, on the final Monday of May, I went to a Memorial Day remembrance ceremony in the City of Alameda. I confess that I have not attended very many of these, but my husband has been playing saxophone in the Alameda Community Band for several years, and had been attending this event before spending the afternoon with family and friends.
This year, I was able to attend the morning memorial, so I dropped him off early, went in search of coffee, and returned in time to get a seat all by myself, not too close to the front, but not all the way in the back, either.
I honestly felt a little awkward at first. My cousin was in the Air Force and served in the Middle East, but he always minimizes his service, joking that he just had a desk job, and that he was only promoted after his deployment because being a drill sergeant required you to be of equal or higher rank than the recruits, and he was responsible for whipping the chaplains and doctors (who were all captains) into shape. I hadn't lost any family in any wars or conflicts, and I wasn't sure if I really belonged there, surrounded by so many surviving veterans and military families.
Worried about whether my presence there was intrusive, I found that it was actually very meaningful for me. The keynote speaker, a Coast Guard Captain who had served in the Gulf, urged us to remember those soldiers and sailors who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, even at the cost of their own lives, and reminded us that “freedom isn't free.” I felt a connection to our profession. We as attorneys also took an oath to support the Constitution, whether we practice civil, criminal, family, probate, or business law, so we are also the defenders of democracy, albeit in a different theater. We use pens, not M16s, and most of us only figuratively put ourselves in the line of fire as we argue in court. But our work is united in its connection to the underpinnings of our democracy: It is a lawyer's duty to uphold the Constitution, no matter what, or risk losing our precious freedoms that others may take for granted.
On that note, please sign up early for our annual Supreme Court review with Professor Rory Little at our General Membership Meeting on June 28, because it will sell out. There's a lot to discuss this year, in both opinions that have been issued, and possible predictions for the remainder of this term. You won't want to miss it! Register here
Dorothy Chou Proudfoot is a Deputy District Attorney at the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, and President of the Marin County Bar Association. She earned her B.A. and J.D. from UC Berkeley.