Recent political events in Fresno have convinced me that I’ve made the right decision to be self-employed.
Not long ago, the District Attorney, Elizabeth Egan was accused of firing at least one Deputy District Attorney because in the previous election, he supported her opponent. The only online story I could find about the verdict was terse, providing virtually no details to the interested reader. I was in the courtroom that day and it was a confusing verdict.
The jury had been asked to answer two questions. I’m sure I won’t remember them verbatim, but they essentially went like this:
- Did Elizabeth Egan engage in political discrimination against Kenneth Hahus?
- If you found that Egan did discriminate against Hahus, do you think she would have fired him anyway?
The verdict puzzled me, although a supporter of Egan who overheard me express my puzzlement to a friend in the elevator assured me that the jury did what the court instructed them to do. You see, the jury was polled individually by a show of hands. As to the first question, 10 people on the jury raised their hands; they agreed Egan fired Hahus for his politics. Two jurors on the back row, seated closest to the gallery, did not raise their hands. For the second question, 9 jurors raised their hands; they felt Hahus would have been fired anyway. Two of those 9 votes came from the two people who did not raise their hands the first time. So my puzzlement was over this: Since the second question was a subjunctive — that is, it assumed that the only people voting would be people who found that there was discrimination — why did the two jurors who did not find this discrimination raise their hands?
I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter much. The two who did not raise their hands the first time clearly thought there was no discrimination to start with. So in their minds, Hahus should lose. The 7 additional jurors who did think there was discrimination thought Hahus would have been fired anyway. So, ultimately, 9 people did, in fact, think he would be fired anyway. Still, I wonder what would have happened if the jury knew what many of the rest of us do: That some prosecutors were afraid to testify against Egan because they (so far) still have their jobs working in “her” department and one had left the department to become a private defense attorney after she believed Egan was trying to build a case to get rid of her for supporting Hamilton. (Lopez, ““DA office job suit goes to jury” Fresno Bee (November 18, 2005) (online).)
Of course, we’ll never really know. Hahus had already been punished for the things for which Egan supposedly fired him. But, you never know, Egan might have thought being punished once wasn’t enough. She is, after all, the same District Attorney whose office is busily trying to make a felony out of “making too much noise” during the shooting of a recent DVD called “Fresno Uncensored.” (As I pointed out yesterday, the judge and the prosecutor were both saddened to realize they could not legally send the accused person to jail otherwise. On recognizing that they were about to lose the case, three Deputy District Attorneys and one Assistant District Attorney showed up for the hearing to decide on the verdict. Thank goodness the law required that at least one attorney was there for the defendant!)
Today comes the news that a Fresno lawyer will probably lose his job for engaging in political speech on the job. (Ellis, “Fresno lawyer could lose job over activism” Fresno Bee (December 3, 2005) p. B5; also available online.)
Apparently, the real problem isn’t that he engaged in political speech on the job — numerous others had done so as well. In fact, the Bee reports that “U.S. Department of Agriculture officials made a presentation to dairy farmers in which they said a department goal was to increase voert turnout for the Bush administration in major dairy states.” (Ellis, supra.) Other employees had posted pro-Bush materials at work “in the months leading up to last November’s presidential election.” (Id.) But the employee in question is a member of the Green party, not the Republican party.
Ah, Fresno…. How I long for the days we belonged to a nation ruled by a constitutionally-limited government, in a nation that followed the rule of law, rather than the rule of man, where equal protection reigned and “with liberty and justice for all.”