Category Archives: Government

Observations from the Jury Box

I’ve been summoned for jury duty before, but never even had to appear at the courthouse. This time my number came up — and I was seated on the jury for the trial of a man accused of  criminal sale of a controlled substance in the 3rd degree, a Class B felony. He was arrested for selling $20 worth of heroin.

Here are a few impressions:

If you get called for jury duty, you probably will not serve. 150 people were summoned in my group and 14 were chosen. Everybody else was dismissed. We were told upfront, before selection even began, that our trial would last just two or three days.

Albany County Court gives jurors the VIP treatment. We were handled extremely well by court personel who went out of their way to make sure it was a positive experience. After the trial, the judge, Hon. Thomas A. Breslin, visited with us to thank us for our service and answer our questions about the trial. He would not address sentencing, which will not take place until August.

Court can be a lonely place. Our courtroom could accomodate nearly 300 spectators — and every single seat was empty. The defendant stood alone without friends or family. The charges that will send him to prison were not even interesting enough for a reporter to show up.

The whole case hinged on whether we believed the tesimony of an informant who conducted the drug buy. Initially, several jurors harbored doubts about her testimony — but as it turned out, theirs were not reasonable doubts. One would need to believe that she concocted an elaborate scheme to fake her drug buy and frame the defendant, all right under the nose of the police who had her under strict control. Could there have been some sort of conspiracy against the defendant? Yes. Was that a likely scenario? Absolutely not.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience.

Everyone should see what happens during a real trial first hand, if not as a juror then from the gallery. The prosecutor primed us in his openning statement by telling us this would not be like on Law & Order. He was right, it was not. And nothing you’ve ever seen can prepare you for being part of the real deal.

Breaking Camp

It was always obvious that people were living in the small patch of trees at Broadway and Church Street, near the Port of Albany. Driving past in the morning, you could make out tents and tarps and sometimes a bit of smoke from a cooking fire. Now and then you’d see clothes stung up to dry.

Not anymore.

This week, somebody — presumably the city — came in and cleared out the area. They didn’t do such a good job of cleaning up. If you walk through the site you can see bits and scraps of what was left behind by the people who lived there.

It reminded me a bit of the scene in “Ironweed” when a gang of thugs descend on a hobo camp to roust the squatters. No, people should not be living in the woods at the edge of town, but it made me sad that their little refuge was destroyed.

Think about what it would be like to live that way — and be thankful you know where you will spend the night.


Lost Hat


Fire Pit

Flickr slideshow.

Here’s Your Furlough, Governor Paterson

Monday is furlough day.

I’ll spend the time spreading mulch in the garden. Taking the day off may sting a bit, but it’s nothing compared to the trouble it will cause people struggling to make ends meet. They’re getting screwed.

No, if it’s my duty to help save the taxpayers some money, you won’t hear a complaint from me. But what about you, David Paterson?

This was your idea, so maybe you’d consider giving up a day of your salary. Leading by example sends a powerful message. If you take the same hit you’re asking of the state workers, there might not be so much ill will.

Cynics would call it an empty gesture, but a little symbolism goes a long way. It’s certainly better than what you’ve got going on now. Run it by somebody in your press office.

In case you’re curious, I took a job at the State of New York less than a year ago because it seemed a little more secure than working in TV. The way things are these days, I’m grateful to be working. Missing a day or two won’t kill me.

Hickory Dickery Dock: Albany’s Broken Clock

This clock would be exactly right if I took the picture at 9:04. It was actually taken at 12:09.

One of Fred Dicker’s favorite targets in Albany isn’t a politician or state official; it’s the clock on top of City Hall.

For months (years?) on his radio show, Dicker has been tossing out jibes directed at Mayor Jerry Jennings and the non-working clock on the tower across from the Capitol. Dicker calls it a fitting symbol for the town’s dysfunctional nature.

Dysfunctional indeed. The clock is locked in at about 9:04 and stays that way.

Some people would find it maddening to walk into a building every day where the clock wasn’t working, particularly if they were the mayor — but Jennings seems comfortable in his relationship with time. Besides, he has many more important things on his mind, like… ummm… well… just take my word for it, he has important things to fix. Like the potholes. Oh, nevermind.

During a recent trip I got to climb a church tower in Sibiu, Romania, walled fortress city of the the Transylvania Saxons. The church was constructed in 1520, and for a few bucks you can go to the top of  the 240 foot spire. On the way up the rickety steps was a small booth containing the mechanical guts of the clock and bell system. They worked perfectly.

How nice to visit a place where they have some civic pride.