Stars-3

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From “Pro Se” by Erlinda Dominguez

From the Prologue:

“You sued the husband’s firm…and…” he mumbled.

“Yes, Sir, the Hawaii judge who presided in a case against me was the wife of the lawyer who worked in the law firm I sued. His firm partnered with me before…”

“Oh?”

The facial expressions of the judge and the lawyers were serious. I thought they had now a sufficient idea of my experience, without going through so much detail. But I should be fair. They had to know that the Hawaii judge had ready explanations. She claimed that she never discussed my partnership conflict with her husband and although it was nowhere in the records, that I allegedly waived her conflict of interest.

Before I could verbalize that further thought, the California judge softly murmured, “I could not believe this…this is unbelievable…”

My mind was racing, and I quickly added, “If I sit at your trial, I might recklessly preach about social reforms like an activist. The jury room will be poisoned. Please release me now.”

The prosecutor mildly shook her head, obviously stunned by what she heard. The defendant’s lawyer just stared at me. The judge appeared to want to hear more. I felt a sudden surge of peace and contentment. I was in the company of lawyers, perhaps with high standard of morality in this nation—and they heard only a small part of what happened to me.

Sounding concerned and judicious, the judge asked, “Don’t they follow the same rules we do? There are ethical rules to be followed, rules that are traditional and historical in this country.”

“Also common sense” was my thought, but I did not say it.

Instead, my response was, “Yes, Your Honor, I believe we have the same rules nationwide…it was mandatory for the Hawaii judge to properly, procedurally and immediately disclose her spousal conflict that I did not know, then step aside. But she did not.”

*****

“Were you ever suspended?” he asked.

“No, Sir, I was never suspended or disbarred. There was just no reason by any stretch of imagination, in my many years of private practice.” I kept myself from saying what my friends in the profession said—they would have preferred death itself.

I directed my statement to the lawyers who curiously waited for what I would further say. “I am aware of the flaws in our system. I am sorry, I really cannot be your juror. It would be unfair to both sides.”

It seemed that they had a consensus of a silent question. “How is that possible…Hawaii is very much a part of America…

Even our president comes from that place.”

Then the defense lawyer asked me, “If our judge will instruct you to decide fairly and justly based on the evidence, you cannot?”

Politely, I replied, “The truth does not always come out at trial like what happened to me– here, I might use my own judgment regardless of the evidence.”

I faced the judge and said, “With all due respect to this court, I am divulging what I feel and believe. I don’t want to lie. This has to do with another judge, not you, Your Honor.”

Nobody was speaking. Then the defense lawyer asked me, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the impossibility to fairly decide, where will you be?

“Number 12. It is worse than impossible,” was my immediate response. “I’m sorry. Please, release me.”

The judge again looked at the lawyers as I continued to read his mind, “With that kind of experience, she has to be biased. She is telling the truth. I’ll let her go.”

Finally, I said, “I’m so sorry I had to tell you all I said. Lives will be affected by the outcome of this trial. I should not be a trial juror.”

Then, the judge softly ordered, “We will be joining you in the courtroom.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

*****

From Page 33

One by one, we occupied our respective seats. The judge and the lawyers were waiting. It was getting late in the afternoon and the jury selection process continued.

The attorneys took turns again asking questions to the jurors seated in my row. None of them questioned me further. I was just there staring at their performance, listening, wondering.

I worried that our private conference was ineffective. My time would be taken up for the next four days or even more if the verdict didn’t come quickly.

Worse still, what did the Hawaii Bar say if it was contacted? My case was very scandalous and known to perhaps all the authorities in that state. The impact of the events was still fresh.

I told myself, “It’s time for my Plan B.” I’ll tell them of another experience I had. It was a personal injury civil case in Hawaii just before I came to California in 2008. It had all the makings of bias in law enforcement, abuses or arbitrariness in the judicial system.

For sure, the California judge in our courtroom will quickly see the injustice of another bad and unjust experience. The ingredients of my prejudice were complete. All the more reason that I should not be involved in this case before us—where the defendant is accused of assaulting a policeman.

My plan B was ready and what I would say should be short and clear. It was the last case I handled for a client in Hawaii.

I represented an elderly, very fragile Asian woman who was publicly arrested, humiliated, jailed for hours—because she paid for her bread with a fake ten dollar bill issued by the bank near the shopping center. Sympathy for my client was overwhelming. The arrest made headlines in the Honolulu papers and on TV. I sued the City and County of Honolulu.

The medical facility took care of my client for her extreme distress. Her personal injury case was arbitrated for two days with eyewitnesses and volumes of exhibits. I won for her an award of some $40,000 for the improper drastic arrest with no probable cause.

The city quickly appealed. By its motion heard in a matter of minutes, the judge—who had not tried the case nor seen a single witness—immediately ordered dismissal. According to her, the cops did no wrong—her sole discretion, her solitary mind.

Not only did that judge quickly dismiss the case but required my client to post an appeal bond for the damages of the city—for having sued for her rights. It didn’t matter to the judge that my client worked all her life as a laborer and in military bases, paid her dues in this country, was never in trouble with the law, and could hardly post the bond.

Just like that! How power could sit in one person! I once faced that judge in a criminal jury trial when she was still a deputy prosecutor. Her perennial witnesses were members of the Honolulu Police Department—very dignified and respectable they may be.

At that criminal trial, arguing at the top of her voice and knocking the edge of the jury box with her knuckles, she stretched her arm and pointed her finger to my client and his co-defendant then yelled, “These people should go back to their country!”

It was clear that her statement carried racism. Now, our paths had crossed again. But I was before her as a lawyer pleading for the rights of my client and she was the judge. Obviously, my nationality and that of my client did nothing to help the situation in her court.

My plan B was ready to be told. I looked at the California judge. He was making an announcement! The jury selection was not completed and court session was coming to an end for the day. Addressing everyone, he said, “Please come back tomorrow.”

*****

From Page 36

One female and one male waved at me while I disappeared from their view. I watched them all…ordinary people…friendly people…good people…I had no reason to think otherwise…and they live in this supposed to be the greatest advanced country that leads the world…it’s so unfair that I had such very ugly, incompetent, immoral Hawaii experiences…

One more time, I glanced at the jurors getting into their cars. “Thanks for our pleasant encounter. Hope we meet again someday. Good luck in your verdict,” I said softly.

My first book, Twice Upon a Court, was lying beside me in the car. A promise made by my friend as my gift to her pastor. I opened the initial page where literary artist Clarence Day said:

“Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out…But in the world of books are volumes…still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.”

As I drove away, my thoughts were of Hawaii. Many of the people involved in my experience were still making history—history that may be imprinted forever in the world of books.

Money and power, power and money—often disgusting. But the Hawaii state of aloha will always be there—the rainbows, the beaches, the palm trees, the climate…the Mai Tai and the Blue Hawaii drinks, while anyone and everyone could dance to the hula. Everyone appeared so free—but were they?