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Barack Obama, foreman of the jury

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

I just read that Barack Obama, former president, has been called for jury duty in Chicago. Obama owns a home in Chicago and one in Washington, D.C. Obama said, "Ok, I'll serve."

You may think that everybody would be thrilled to have Obama on their jury. Not so fast. I can imagine one case where one lawyer would do almost anything within the rules to keep him off the jury.

The case is unusual, but this has actually happened, though not exactly as presented here. The case arose out of a charity golf tournament opened to caddies only. The caddies all had sponsors. Due to storm damage on the golf course, the tournament was played on nine holes rather than 18. But the players went around the course twice for 18 holes of competition.

A big feature of the tournament was that any golfer who got a hole-in-one on hole three, (210 yards) would win a new Cadillac with all the features of Cadillac's most luxurious model. One hundred caddies were entered.

The odds of an amateur getting a hole-in-one are 12,500 to 1. Insurance companies like those odds and sell insurance to golf tournaments to cover the loss if a golfer actually hits an ace. The problem arose in this case when one of the caddies hit a hole-in-one on hole three the second time around. He claimed the Cadillac. But the insurance company said no, for you this wasn't hole three, it was hole 12. No car. The caddy sued to be awarded the Cadillac.

If Barack Obama turned up on the jury panel for that case, the lawyer for the insurance company would want him stricken. Obviously, the former president would likely be elected jury foreman, so having him stricken one way or another would probably be the difference between winning or losing. The lawyer figured Obama would lean favorably toward the caddy, an underdog, and nobody ever accused Obama of favoring insurance companies. Now, a juror may be excused from service without explanation for no reason at all. This is called, a preemptory challenge, but each side gets a limited number of preemptory challenges and the insurance company had used all of theirs before Obama was called for questioning.

The other challenge is "for cause," like when the prospective juror is related to some party in the suit or has some other factor in her background, actual or implied, that would prevent her from being impartial.

So, here's the hardworking insurance company lawyer questioning Obama, hoping to uncover some actual or implied bias:

Q: Former presidents are sometimes addressed as "Mr. President" but that seems awkward in the courtroom. How should I address you?

A: You can just call me Mr. Obama.

Q: Mr. Obama, you could have been excused from serving, but here you are. Why?

A: I'm just an ordinary citizen now, willing to do my duty.

Q: Very good. Are you a golfer?

A: Yes, I play some golf.

Q: Have you ever shot a hole-in-one?

A: No such luck — or skill, whichever it is.

Q: Can you be impartial in a case involving a golfer against an insurance company?

A: Yes, I believe I can be impartial.

Q: Do you have any bias against insurance companies?

A: Only insurance companies that sell health insurance.

Q: Do you have an emotional pull to favor underdogs — like caddies?

A: Only somebody caddying for me — like a Secret Service agent.

Q: By the way, are there any Secret Service agents in the courtroom now?

A: Yes, four of them, to be exact.

Q: Have you ever been a caddy yourself?

A: Yes, I caddied two seasons when I was in high school in Hawaii.

Q: If you serve on this jury, are you willing to listen to both sides before you make your decision? A. I always listen to both sides. I call that bipartisanship.

Q: I understand you have some training and experience in the law.

A: Yes, I'm a graduate of the Harvard Law School and I taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

Q: Have you ever tried a case a trial lawyer?

A: Never. I leave that to you courtroom warriors.

Q: Are you willing to agree to not serve as jury foreman?

A: Are you allowed to ask me to do that? That seems like an illegal request. I have the same rights as any other private citizen and I happen to like running for office, even foreman of the jury.

Q: It would be easy for you to answer one of these questions in a way to get yourself excused, but you seem determined to sit on this jury. Any explanation?

A: Yes, I find retirement from politics to be boring and I want to meet the caddy who's going to get that Cadillac.

Lawyer: Your Honor, I move that this juror be dismissed because of his obvious bias toward caddies.

Judge: Motion granted. Mr. Obama, you may step down, you're dismissed.

Order Lynn Hummel's new book, The Last Word (171 articles, 310 pages) by sending $15 plus $3 postage ($10 plus postage for additional books) to Pony Express Books, 1948 Long Bridge Road, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501, or order at: bevlyn@arvig.net.

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