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To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, March 11, 2000

Putting faces on
the system

I'VE been a juror before. It was interesting but tedious and thankless. So, when the summons arrived a few weeks ago, I opened it dutifully, not joyfully.

We've come to think of "The System" as an impersonal, self-serving, officious bureaucracy. Bailiffs and clerks herd faceless plaintiffs and defendants, police, witnesses and jurors through the labyrinth of corridors, chambers and anterooms to endlessly re-enact familiar scenes of accusation, denial, rebuttal, narration and summation.

The days I spent on jury duty last week proved it doesn't have to be that way, however. In her First Circuit courtroom Judge Marie Milks treats jurors like grownups and it really makes a difference.

It starts with small things, such as telling the jury when there will be a recess, when court will reconvene and sticking to the schedule. There's no waiting around for Judge Milks. When the bailiff calls out "all rise," the jury and judge enter simultaneously. No time is wasted on ceremony or pretense.

It extends to clear explanations of procedures, what to expect and how to behave. Jurors may be ignorant, but we're not stupid. Milks and her staff devote time and attention to anticipating our needs and preparing us to play our role in the process.

When it was over and our verdict was in, Milks asked us to go to the jury room and joined us moments later, unrobed, to chat citizen to citizen. She asked for suggestions, explained details about how the case unfolded and gave us more insights into the trial process, talking story about her years as lawyer and judge.

Each juror received a personalized letter. "Dear Mr. Flanagan," mine read. "Although I have already had a chance to thank you in person for your recent service as a juror, I wanted to express the gratitude of the Judiciary for your willingness to take time out of your busy schedule to participate in our justice system."

OK, it still wasn't fun exactly, but feeling appreciated makes up for it.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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