Mayor not excused from duty on jury

O'Malley accepts a job that Schaefer and Schmoke missed

January 05, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein and Tom Pelton | Gady A. Epstein and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Like pretty much everyone else sitting with him in a Baltimore courtroom yesterday, Juror No. 21 had one thought in mind: "I was hoping to be struck early."

But it turns out, even Mayor Martin O'Malley can't get out of jury duty. Not only was he picked for a jury yesterday, he was named the foreman.

With pencil and notepad in hand, and a "JUROR" sticker affixed to his dark gray suit jacket, O'Malley scribbled away as attorneys and witnesses recounted the details of a routine personal injury case. On a jury of three men and three women, he took the most copious notes: "It's the only way to stay awake," he explained later.

He appeared to take the job seriously but with a touch of humor, occasionally arching his eyebrows, mouthing words or smiling broadly as he sat in the jury box with five other jurors and an alternate. Circuit Judge John N. Prevas informed O'Malley that as the first juror chosen, he was to be the foreman, a responsibility the mayor said he could accept.

It is the first time, in decades at least, that a sitting Baltimore mayor has served on a jury. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said last night that he has never even been called for jury duty -- not in his 16 years on the City Council, his 15 years as mayor, his eight years as governor or since.

"I must be exempted. I guess when they see my name they just throw it out," said an amused Schaefer. He predicted that the courtroom "will be jammed" when people learn O'Malley is on the jury. The trial continues Monday.

As mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke was never picked for a jury, but he said he "came real close" one of the half-dozen or so times he was called in 12 years in office. That time, Schmoke had to testify in Annapolis during the legislative session, and the judge let him off the hook.

The plaintiff in yesterday's case, Lawrence Charles Chenowith, 50, appreciated the mayor serving on his jury.

"He's making a good point by doing it, serving like he was any other citizen. A lot of people try to get out of jury duty, but he didn't. I'm sure there are a lot of other important things that he could be doing. I think he'll treat me fairly."

Chenowith, an unemployed flute player from Northeast Baltimore, sported thick black plastic wraparound glasses, a goatee and a bolo tie. His voice gravelly and solemn, he broke into tears as he spoke on the witness stand of being squeezed in the door of an MTA bus in Northeast Baltimore on May 15, 1999, while trying to catch a ride to a pet store to buy fish food.

"I'll never get on a bus again," said Chenowith, whose attorney said he is seeking $500,000 for psychological trauma and neck injuries that required surgery.

Staring at his note pad, O'Malley raised his brows in an expression of surprise when Chenowith said the bus driver "looked at me nasty." When Chenowith said musicians don't make much money, O'Malley -- a guitar player -- silently mouthed the word "true."

O'Malley, a lawyer himself, grinned and turned to the juror next to him when the judge gave a puzzling instruction to one witness, who appeared baffled by the judge's choice of words.

Afterwards, O'Malley said he had to cancel meetings, including a briefing on Fire Department statistics, to serve on the jury, but didn't mind. "I'm glad to do my duty."

He said the worst part was running into another potential juror in the jury room: Southeast Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

"I was lobbied all morning," he said with a smile. "And I couldn't escape."

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