A judge ruminates on juries, past and present.
Dwyer, former trial lawyer, occasional law professor, and current US District Judge for the Western District of Washington, cheerfully admits that he set down his thoughts on weekend and holiday mornings, during those rare spare moments afforded the overworked members of the federal judiciary. The result hearkens back to another era, when learned men wrote unfussy books about professions they loved, eagerly substituting experience and good humor for overly structured analysis. Dwyer’s nominal topic is the jury, but he ranges far from it; what he’s truly recorded are his reflections on the adversarial system of justice to which he’s devoted a large portion of his life. None of his insights are strikingly original, but reading him is a pleasant experience, and Dwyer himself comes off as amiably avuncular, mentally agile, and decent to a fault. In fact, because his defense of the jury stems largely from the positive experiences juries have had in his courtroom, one has to wonder whether those experiences aren’t attributable to the man on the bench rather than to any advantages inherent to the system. Nonetheless, Dwyer builds up something of a case for the jury, lucidly touring English legal history before wending his way from Salem to HUAC to Lance Ito’s courtroom, documenting the dangers of a jury-less world along the way. And although his suggestions for how to reform the jury tend to be directed more at other aspects of the legal system—especially the pre-trial discovery rules—that doesn’t make them any less worthwhile. All in all, except for a couple of forays into comparative anthropology that border on the uncouth, there’s not much to object to here. Nor is there much to set the heart, or the mind, racing.
A solid judicial opinion.