Opinion: The Case of the Missing Juror

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Far be it from me to question a federal judge but ...

Your Honor, seriously?

The federal judge in Senator Ted Stevens’ trial didn’t do anything today to penalize the wayward juror who vanished from the Alaska senator’s corruption trial and showed up in court to explain why.

The Stevens jury had already begun deliberating when juror Marian Hinnant disappeared, leaving some message about her father dying.


It turns out, as she told the judge, her father’s just fine; she actually came here, to the Santa Anita racetrack, to see a horse race.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan put an alternate on the panel and the deliberations proceeded apace and Stevens was convicted. But today, when Hinnant was asked to account for herself in court, the AP reports she delivered some ramblings about Gerald Ford’s son and horse racing and drugs and her Florida condo being bugged -- and of course, that ‘I just wanted to go to the Breeders’ Cup’ -- the judge let her go without any sanctions.

Unless Ms. Hinnant has some personal issues that are so serious that they should have kept her off the jury in the first place, she may become the patron saint of jury scofflaws.

I write this on behalf of all of us who dutifully drag ourselves to court in obedience to that always-inconvenient jury summons. Los Angeles County has had such a hard time getting people to serve on juries that it’s been fining those who repeatedly ignore the summonses. In 1996, one judge was so desperate for jurors that sent out bailiffs like press gangs into downtown Los Angeles, looking for candidates for the jury box.

Unless, as I said, Hinnant has some substantial troubles that should have kept her out of the jury box, the quest for jurors, state and federal, might be even harder now. After all, the reasoning could go, what’s a little ducking of a summons when a federal juror ducked out on ongoing deliberations for a horse race?