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Ramon Johnson

Gay Bias Claim Gets Entire Jury Dismissed

By May 2, 2012

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What exactly is bias? Is it simply a favor of one person (or thing) over another or is bias a subconscious desire to make a hopeful connection of empathy with another? If that's the case, could bias be justified? It's not politically correct to say, but we all tend to share more in common with those that share our circumstances, out culture or even our look. This is no absolute, but undeniably a reality in many circles.

In fact, bias has made claim to many accusations of unfair advantage. Think of standardized tests. How likely is it that an inner city kid living in poverty would know what a regatta is? Sure, there are tools available for him to learn about the it, but he's still at a disadvantage to another kid who's social-economic circumstances make rowing commonplace during summer holidays. But does that mean the word "regatta" on a standardized test is biased?

Or what about the name Keyshia on top of a resume. Is she more likely to solicit a perception about who she is and her work ethic because of the association of her name? Assuming that the hiring manager isn't White, does the scenario change? No circumstance is untouched. Is, say, the University of Texas graduate more likely to hire another UT grad?

Sadly, bias or actions based on perception and framing are everywhere. Bias is an evil bug that, like a New York cockroach, leaves no home untouched regardless of culture, color or height of dollar bills. The less cynical, however, believe that bias is all around us yet it's the individual who chooses to by into it or ignore it's temptation. In many cases bias becomes an opportunity that not everyone takes. The optimistic says most people let it pass.

I've talked a lot about bias based on culture and socioeconomic status, but what of sexuality? Are gay men a crew that can't be broken? Is a gay man more likely to carry empathy for another gay man?

To the fury of a San Diego judge, local prosecutors rejected a gay man from a jury panel because the case was about same-sex marriage. The move is reminiscent of a 2011 claim from Prop 8 supporters who accused presiding Judge Walker of presenting bias because he was a gay man overseeing a trial over gay issues.

Then, Judge Walker refused to recuse himself and he was eventually found fit to serve by his peers. Walker didn't raise much of a stink. After all, it wasn't his prosecutors who were presenting the claim nor the bias.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber, however, is in a much more troubling position. Not only did she call the city attorneys' actions "shocking" but she later dismissed the entire jury panel. Both sides will now have to start over with jury selection.

Was the city attorneys' rejection of the gay juror a systematic move to present his own bias in the case or do you think the gay juror was more likely to vote in favor of the gay defendants?

May 3, 2012 at 1:10 am
(1) Gary Dee says:

Judge Weber was well within her rights to dismiss the jury panel and have them start over.

The city attorneys’ rejection of the one potential gay juror was based on nothing more than supposition. It would be the same as rejecting a black juror because the case involves a black defendant, or a Hispanic juror because the case concerns a Hispanic defendant, or a woman because the defendant is a woman. The person is assumed to be unfit to judge impartially, because of the particular group they belong to.

At the least, it’s insulting to the person, but, in the larger scale, it is a definite danger because it makes real justice impossible.

It may have been shocking to judge Weber, but I’d say that the city attorneys are deserving of censure.

May 4, 2012 at 11:19 am
(2) Gord Richardson says:

Excellent comment Mr. Dee! I was upset by the rejection of the gay juror but certainly couldn’t have reduced my thoughts to writing so succinctly and cogently. Your analogies really drive home the ridiculousness of that juror’s rejection. Thank you for your contribution. You have spoken not only for youself but for me and I’m sure many other readers.

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