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August 15, 2018

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Jurors, don’t expect any shut-eye in these courts

If you’re selected to be a juror, then are immediately told you’re an alternate, isn’t it likely you will be prone to tuning out, maybe even dozing off?

What if a juror calls in sick or winds up being removed, requiring a slacking alternate to step in?

District Court Judge Jackie Glass decided long ago to do everything possible to ensure that all jurors pay attention in her courtroom, so she doesn’t designate alternates until just before jury deliberations. That’s when she whips out one of her toy bingo-ball machines, as she calls them.

It’s a hand-held globe in which tiny balls with numbers are scrambled before one is dropped at random, similar to the Powerball system. Whichever juror’s number drops makes him the alternate.

Each of her toys has more than enough balls to handle a trial with multiple alternates, such as the O.J. Simpson case, set to unfold in her courtroom in September. Glass inherited her first lotto toy from another judge. When it needed to be replaced, she contacted the manufacturer, whose reps told her only four were left. She bought all four for the cost of shipping.

Glass isn’t the only judge with a system designed to prevent alternate slacking.

The Friday before a trial begins in District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez’s courtroom, she convenes a conference with attorneys for the two sides. Gonzalez is the presiding civil judge. The parties discuss the upcoming trial and determine which juror seats will hold alternates by picking from a bucket filled with numbered markers that resemble poker chips. Only those in the courtroom at the time — at least a weekend before a jury is impaneled — know which seats are for the alternates.

Glass goes a step further to keep jurors alert in the afternoons. She has her bailiff give out candy after the lunch hour, then small chocolates about 3 p.m. Some jurors figure it’s a Pavlov-style positive reinforcement that also delivers a little sugar and caffeine boost.

It’s almost like grade school all over again — without, we presume, nap time.

•••

Most cell phones unveiled within the past two years have cameras that can take decent photographs, but the state Supreme Court has yet to clarify whether they can be used in courtrooms, court spokesman Bill Gang says.

That question probably won’t be answered with a simple yes or no vote. Some lower court judges don’t allow even silenced phones to be on in their courtrooms, so the broad issue of mobiles might be a starting point for the justices.

Also, justices might debate whether bloggers, who may be apt to use camera phones, are journalists. Photojournalists employed by major newspapers prefer cameras that take sharper images than phone cameras.

The blogger issue is especially sticky. Corporations across the nation are grappling with this question; the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is a renowned blogger, yet he banned bloggers from his team’s locker room until he was pressured recently to change course.

Gang expects the court to revamp its media policy soon, possibly by year’s end.

•••

The Democratic Party’s loss of Robert Daskas in the race to unseat Republican Rep. Jon Porter is District Attorney David Roger’s gain.

Roger, a Republican, has eagerly accepted Daskas back at the office. Daskas was regarded as one of the most competent prosecutors in town before he dabbled in politics, only to abruptly withdraw for the oft-cited “family reasons” this week.

On Thursday Roger wouldn’t commit to returning Daskas to any of the high-profile cases he had before his aborted run for office. But Daskas is sure to be back in the spotlight at the Regional Justice Center.

He’ll return in the next couple of weeks as a chief deputy district attorney in the major violators unit, which handles high-profile criminal cases, including murders and an occasional political corruption case.

Judging by his departure from the congressional race, Daskas is likely to find prosecuting elected officials easier than trying to become one.

Senior Investigative Reporter Jeff German contributed to this story.

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