Juror play games while trial drags on

A judge called off a trial on finding that jurors were playing Sudoku.

The trial had to date involved105 witnesses and three months of evidence, and cost $1 million.

As one of the accused was giving evidence in a trial in which two defendants face drug charges, he saw the jury forewoman playing what he thought was Sudoku. His co-accused saw it too, and the defense lawyers made a joint application for a discharge.

The judge was alerted after it was observed the jurors were writing vertically, rather than horizontally. It had been assumed they were taking notes. "Yes, it helps me keep my mind busy paying more attention," the jury forewoman reportedly told the judge. "Some of the evidence is rather drawn out and I find it difficult to maintain my attention the whole time, and that doesn't distract me too much from proceedings."

The government's proposed solution was to "streamline" future trials.

That would be a good idea. I had the privilege of sitting through many civil and criminal trials as a law clerk to a federal judge. Many were thrilling and some very mundane much of the time. My own impression was the difficulty of keeping good track of the conflicting testimony and evidence, even with detailed notes and the demands of reporting my impressions back to the judge, and I wondered how the jury could make sense of it all, especially with the charge to avoid emotions and make decisions solely on the law and the evidence.

I also got to see a good deal of shenanigans and outright misrepresentation by many lawyers. All in all I came away turned off to litigation, even though I had the skill set for it, and thus began a new path dedicated to creative writing, which eventually blossomed into healing, spirituality, and academic work and law practice focused on complementary, alternative and integrative medicine.

But the staying power required to focus and concentrate on details of a trial was obvious even then. We have since moved to an ADHD-like society. Email, video games, and stimulation from all sides are overwhelming. To this, meditation and yoga provide a partial repose -- just as A.J. Heschel's book, The Sabbath, urged a literal 'day of rest' away from the bleeping, prodding, poking, urging, demanding array of informational machines that constantly require the food of attention. If sitting through a jury trial was difficult back in the prehistoric era (pre-Google actually), it must be even more challenging today. Sit still: the most difficult command in the world. And yet the jury trial is one of our most cherished Constitutional rights.

How we reconcile the rights of ages with the demands of modernity, and how to do it in a way that maintains the integrity of the system and the fairness underlying the notion of due process with the very real limitations of the human instrument in the chaotic information-streaming world of today? Somehow I think that is the question, and not whether to ban or not ban a numerical crossword game. We must learn to think vertically and horizontally on all levels, not just the literal, physical one. And somehow grow through the infinitely expanding web of knowledge, information, stimulation, and accumulation of detail, with the one-pointed, Zen-like focus that is the hallmark that good citizenry is supposed to demand.