LTD's Trial

©2005 L.Timmel Duchamp

Extracts from the personal correspondence of L. Timmel Duchamp

14 May, 1990
Monday evening

Can't believe how wiped I am, feel like I've missed a week's sleep. That's what sitting around all day waiting can do to one. Because that's what we did: sat & waited in the arraignment courtroom, waiting to be assigned to a judge—with breaks at the repulsive Columbia Center, where we planned strategy & talked among ourselves just to pass the time. The judge assigning cases out (Judge W____, the one who presided over the "the Christians'" case, the one who looked as though he were about to tear his hear out when they refused to either pay a fine or perform community service) is so disgusted with having these cases go forward that he's put them at the bottom of the list, which means that we're having a hard time getting assigned to a courtroom & judge willing to try our cases. We would have had one late this afternoon, but turns out the room was too tiny—it seems that THIRTEEN of us are to be tried in a single shot. Few courtrooms are large enough to hold us—most courtrooms probably don't have enough chairs, even.

There's a high probability we're going to get stuck with JudgeY____, who's notorious for egregiously slanting cases presented before her & plainly communicating her opinions to the jury. She's had conflicts with one of our attorneys, who usually avoids her court. But if we file an affadavit of prejudice & turn her down, we'll end up in limbo, & most of us just want to get it over with. The lawyers do say, however, that if Y____ decides the case is frivolous & that the city is wasting the court's time she wouldn't hesitate to toss it out (as none of the other judges have so far been willing to do). "She's unpredictable."

There are so many of us that few of us will be able to testify. Unfortunately, though, I've been drafted to give the pro ses' opening statement. If the judge is Y____, I can see myself getting nervous under her horrid glare. (She glares at people, & even yells at them.) Oh I think TIMMI should be the one to make the opening statement. She's so ARTICULATE, she knows how to project her voice, & she's a woman (the latter was from one of the two other women—both WILF members). Also, I dressed up today, in the clothes my mother gave me for Christmas. (Someday I'll have to tell her how her present finally got used.)

So tomorrow we start all over again. It's horrid, it's worse than hanging around an airport waiting for the fog to lift.

Our group is a real mixture, not necessarily harmonious, either. One guy keeps muttering Marxist epigrams only half under his breath. Another guy—who's been arrested twenty-six times in this city & has so far served an accumulation of 4 months in jail, which he says is easy—smiles & laughs all the time. Then there are the two WILF women, one of them, C____, probably around seventy. R_____ is from Chile. P_____ is basically concerned to play the legal game correctly & get off. There's a city of Seattle employee. An Australian (who keeps muttering Shakespeare's "first kill all the lawyers" & "the law is an ass" under his breath all the time). & so on.

Oh, & here's another thing: the women who had been prosecuting the case are not going to be prosecuting our case. Instead we've been assigned a Yale Law graduate whom one of our lawyers claims has been a little out of it ever since he got a bump on the head. Also, D_____ (one of the activist lawyers) showed up during one of our meetings & told us that the police keep changing their story, & warned us to be prepared for a new set of lies. (I can hardly wait to see what they're going to come up with next—a whole gang of protestors, maybe, jumping on the backs of a squad of cops?) One thing about having C_____ & J____ testifying, people will believe them like a shot. C_____ looks like everyone's ideal grandmother, & J____ looks like an arrow-straight bureaucrat.

15 May, 1990
Tuesday evening

I am about crazy dead with exhaustion. Never did I dream I'd find myself in THIS kind of situation. Tired as I am, this is going to be long. Just gotta tell you some of it.

First, you could now call our trial group the Seattle 17, for Judge W____ decided to lump us all together—all seventeen of us, with four lawyers representing six defendants & the rest of us pro se. Thing is, with 17... But we're in Judge M_____'s courtroom. Which is, I think, o.k. (He's done work on American-Japanese internment reparations, NF, one of the p.d.s told me.) He's Asian-American. D_____ avoided his courtroom because the two of them have been in a major conflict. But N_____ gets along with him fine—& best of all, because N____ is representing one of us he's being excruciatingly careful to follow the rules, since N____ has appealed some of his previous rulings). Anyway, the first thing this judge does when we arrive in his courtroom is to order all the defendants to arrange themselves in alphabetical order in the left-hand side of the spectators' pews. This we do. Then we make a seating plan. (It's like school, yeah.) Then he puts each of the pro ses through their paces—asking them how much formal education they've had (turns out I've had the most, but almost everybody among us has a minimum of a bachelor's degree) & about whether they know what they're doing representing themselves. (We each got about five minutes of attention.) When we've gone through this, the judge decides that the pro ses can have two people representing them—for screening the jury, for sidebars at the bench, & in chat in the judges' chamber (laying out ground rules). R_____ & I are the group's choice. So the first thing we do is to troop into the judges' chambers—me with seven men all wearing suits & ties. (R______ is wearing a suit & tie.)

The prosecutor, let me tell you, is WEIRD. I mean we're talking MAJOR WEIRD. I'm beginning to believe HG's story about his bumping his head & never being the same. First, he's always smiling to himself & shaking his head. Also, he seems to want to HANG AROUND WITH US (rather than be all by himself when there are 21 of us confabbing together during breaks). & finally, he's one of those eager beavers with law books—frantically paging through them looking for reasons for objecting etc.

He's, I guess you might say, a nerd.

I may have made a strategic error in that first meeting in the judge's chambers. My first thought about all of us being tried together was that the jury would never be able to keep us straight & would therefore just lump us all together & not bother with real deliberations. So I asked the judge about letting the jurors keep notes. One of the lawyers liked that idea a lot. The judge seemed to like it too. But then later, when I got to thinking about it & discussing it with the others, we began to have reservations. When we were back in court & the issue came up on the record, I then had to explain to the judge that we didn't like the idea (though we did want the seating chart)—& when he asked me for a reason, I said the first thing that came into my head—that it was possible the jurors would get so caught up in taking notes that they wouldn't pay attention evenly to the evidence. He liked that answer. (Actually, my first flurry of compliments from all the lawyers came from my saying that.) (Really, it's almost a little insulting that all these lawyers & the judge seem to expect non-lawyers to be dimwitted.) In the end it was decided that the jurors would be allowed to jot things on the seating chart, but to make no notes on any other sheet of paper. (There's a real drawback to this, too—that they'll use up their sheet of paper with the cops' testimony, & have no space left by the time they get to us. & also, that they'll just separate those who were sitting in the intersection from everyone else & acquit the latter & find the former guilty.)

We also worked out excruciating rules for screening the jury. In the event, neither side used up all its challenges. (We were scared to death to use up the juror pool, because the judge said that if we did, he'd dip into the Superior Court pool—dreadful as such an administrative process would be—if we ran out of municipal court jurors.) He allowed us 19 challenges & the city 10. The judge interviewed the jurors first, then the city attorney, & then each of the defense attys in turn—leaving the pro ses til last. (The judge got really hyper about our taking so long to do it: when in fact this jury screening took a lot less time than the screening for the last trial I attended.) But I'm not complaining, since it meant I got to ask the kinds of questions no one else did.

This is a good place to remark that every time I say anything on the record, I have to say my name first. With the net result that most people are now starting to call me the L name instead of Timmi. (Rather than fight it, I'm just answering to whatever they want to call me.) Also: although I didn't address the judge as Mr. M_____, I am saying "sir" instead of "Your Honor." Everybody has noticed this. My reasoning is that it's not disrespectful, though it does call attention to what the address of "Your Honor"—which is usually used without thought—implies.

Anyway, over the last week I've been making up questions that I'd never heard any of the lawyers ask in any of the trials I've attended. So I was thoroughly prepared to use the voir dire for political education. My questions generally made people frown, or blink, or sit up. For instance, having gotten out of a juror that she'd watched some of the coverage of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, I pointed out to her that all the students there had been ordered by the police to leave, but that the students had refused. I asked her if she thought the students had been correct to disobey the police order. The look she gave me! She stumbled around, then came out with a statement about well that's China, you know, & things are different there, & this is America... Making crystal clear the double standard people have about law enforcement & free speech in this country as opposed to outside it. I questioned another juror about how he felt about the disobedience widely practiced by civil rights activists in the South in the 50s & 60s. More discomfort. I asked another person if she equated "peaceful demonstration" with events where no arrests are made. I asked another person if it made her angry to hear people criticizing the US's foreign policy. (I asked that of several jurors, actually.) Another time I asked someone if she thought it appropriate to object to how the federal government spends tax dollars. (That's a nice educational question, because everyone in the room knew I was talking about the nature of our dissent.) I also asked questions about whether after hearing 17 or more police officers testify against us they could continue presuming our innocence while waiting to hear all the rest of the evidence.

In spite of myself, I was nervous. But there was the fortunate happenstance that I knew a lot about the jurors—which no one else did, except P____, who, like me, had attended all the other trials. I was the only one of us who was around for those trials, so I knew which jurors from the previous trials reasoned which way. & thus I got rid of two big liabilities we would otherwise have kept on. (The city, though, got rid of the best people.)

Three people disqualified themselves by making strong political statements. One woman practically spat at us, about our being "treasonous." (I think she wanted us lined up against the wall & shot.) But two other jurors, one a black man (whom the city bumped off the last trial) & a 60 yr old woman who looked 40, said the opposite. (I got to read the jurors' cards—which gives the juror's age, educational background, & other personal details.) The black man started out by saying that he was probably to the left of all us defendants. (Not true, I don't think, since he works with the Democratic Party, but nice of him to say so.) He announced that he'd been going to demonstrations since the age of 5. He said that he thought what we did was absolutely correct, & he couldn't see himself convicting us of anything. The woman (who under years of education wrote "sixty"—the same as her age) said that the state of the world saddened her & the role the US played in it made her ill to the depths of her soul. That she thought laws punishing us must be wrong. & that if she thought the law she was given to judge us by was unfair, there's no way she'd be able to convict us...

During the last break, we went outside for some air & to talk about which jurors to bump—& damned if every lawyer—including the city attorney—didn't come up to tell me how brilliant I was, how "penetrating" my questions, how they themselves had apparently gotten stale after doing it for god knows how many years. (It was the city attorney who took me aback—my jaw dropped, I just sort of gaped at him: which was the point at which I started getting the idea he was wanting to hang out with us because he didn't like being all by himself.)

We didn't finish until 5:40, but we did have a jury by then—plus an alternate. (Can you believe it, our trial rates an alternate—because, I s'pose, we're 17.) & can you believe it, all seven of them are women? (I didn't notice until after we'd said we accepted the jury as empanelled.)

Oh, & then the cream moment of the day. The judge had just dismissed the pool & was swearing in the jury, when the bailiff comes in & hands him a yellow message square. After reading it, he instructed the jury to avoid, if at all possible, 5th & Cherry—which is to say, the area of the King County Jail: our vigil, it seems, had won quick official notice.

I of course, went straight there after court let out. One of the signs is perfect: IN EL SALVADOR MURDERERS GO FREE, WHILE IN SEATTLE PROTESTORS ARE SENTENCED TO JAIL. I don't think I have that exactly right—I think the wording is better, because I loved it on sight.

The most nerve-wracking aspect of the day was being aware of representing all my co-defendants & worrying about doing the kind of job they wanted—in one case, the guy sitting behind me, frustrated, stood up to ask a juror a question, at which the judge called me, R_____, & the lawyers to the bench to insist that the other pro ses tell me or R_____ their questions & have us ask them. That made me feel bad, since it really isn't right that someone representing themselves can't directly participate in the process. & then there was the business about challenges. Some of the pro ses were wanting to bump almost everyone, without understanding the strategy. & it wasn't like we could go into a huddle to discuss it, so I was just following my own head, & by that time the lawyers were behaving as though I'd become an honorary lawyer.

Interesting, isn't it. How certain prejudices can come out that obviously they're not aware of. In the smaller trials, the lawyers had no problem consulting with all the pro se defendants. But now that there's a crowd—one seated not at the same table with them, but behind the gate, in the spectators' pews—& now that they've decided I'd make a super-lawyer (I can't believe how many people have told me that today), I get to be one of the boys in their little circle—having notes passed back to me, being asked my opinion... (& they're suddenly treating me entirely differently than they'd so far done—really looking at me, listening to me.)

Well, I'll try not to let that part bother me. & hope the others don't mind (but mostly they're glad to have stuck me with the responsibility—I never volunteered for any of it). I'm just glad we've got a courtroom & the trial's in progress: it means there's an end in sight, even if it's another two days away.

(By the way, the one motion on which the pro ses opposed the p.d.s was when the latter moved to sever some of the cases, to make the group smaller. Our only reason for objecting was that we didn't want to be put off any longer—couldn't stand the delay, just wanted to get it over with, even if there's a disadvantage to the size of the group. That was one thing we ALL agreed on without more than fifteen seconds of discussion. & the judge agreed too—get the whole fucking thing over with in one fell swoop, rather than afflicting the court system with more trials—besides the one scheduled for next Monday.)

18 May, 1990
Friday morning

…speaking of indignation: at the vigil last night a man in a business suit stopped to take one of our flyers (after having read our signs) & asked us incredulously if the people who had demonstrated in January had really been put in jail—he found it preposterous & got all worked up about it. Our biggest sign, by the way, said simply NO MORE KILLING WITH OUR TAX DOLLARS (one of those long banners in big red block letters)—with the smaller signs telling the rest of the story. Some of the guys in the jail were screaming out at inmates who had been allowed to come outside in the plaza & smoke, demanding to know what our signs said. (Really, it's so pathetic hanging out there, because there's a constant stream of women & children pulling up across from the jail at an obviously pre-appointed time to wave & call up at the windows with their affections. After a while that started to get a little hard to take, especially seeing the looks on the kids' faces.)

I still haven't completely settled down. I've heard there's a party being planned. Though we weren't that crazy about one another when we started this process, we've become peculiarly attached to one another & obviously are finding it difficult to completely let go—we have a sense of anticlimax, & since none of us belong to the same organization, (many of us don't belong to any organization at all), some of us are starting to talk about organizing things for the summer...

If the sun comes out I'm going to work in the garden today. That should help get me back into my solitudinous groove.


Monday, May 21, 1990

…I have to say I'm glad I got so drawn into the trials because I think if I hadn't I might very well be intolerably depressed about the world situation. For the entire time my trial was going on, the courtroom seemed like the whole world, a sort of microcosm, a demonstration of the possibilities for effecting change. But we couldn't get the press to take the slightest notice, & in the meantime the killing in El Salvador goes on... Sure, Congress is probably going to cut off 50% of military aid, but that's a drop in the bucket. "Military aid" only comes to $85 million, which is only a fraction of the aid to El Salvador that gets spent on the war.

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