O'Malley Reports for Duty, But as Juror, Not Governor

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; B01

Juror No. 368 arrived at a Baltimore courthouse early yesterday morning with two paperbacks to read and one member of his Executive Protection Unit in tow.

With 51 days until he is sworn in as governor, it perhaps wasn't the ideal way for Mayor Martin O'Malley to kill a day. But duty called -- jury duty, that is.

As did several hundred others called to serve yesterday, O'Malley spent much of his day confined to the drab juror assembly room of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, whittling away the hours between excursions to courtrooms as movies -- "Monster-in-Law" and later "Akeelah and the Bee" -- played on multiple television screens.

By the end of the day, O'Malley had been passed over for two Circuit Court panels. But the possibility of serving kept him confined, aside from a lunch break, from shortly after 8 a.m. until he was dismissed at 4:40 p.m. on a day when aides were searching for Cabinet secretaries and talking about his agenda for his first legislative session.

"I think I'm a very fair and reasonable person," O'Malley told a television reporter who greeted him on the way to his first of two rounds of jury selection. "I think I'd make a good juror."

The small media contingent that tagged along was hardly the only sign of the governor-elect's celebrity.

O'Malley, who spent a good share of the day banging out messages on his BlackBerry, encountered many well-wishers among fellow jurors as well as lawyers in the halls, who congratulated him on his recent victory over Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

One juror identified herself as a Baltimore schoolteacher and said she grew tired during the campaign of Ehrlich's bashing of the city's schools. Another juror requested the installation of a speed bump near her Baltimore home. O'Malley referred her to the city's Transportation Department.

It was not O'Malley's first summons to jury duty as an elected official. In 2002, he was a jury foreman in a case involving a flutist who complained of being squeezed in a bus door

O'Malley, who declined his $15 in compensation yesterday, said he also recalled sitting on another case while mayor.

He sat mum in both rounds of jury selection when a judge asked if potential jurors had "a compelling reason" they could not serve.

Others offered excuses: a grandfather's funeral, college classes to teach and bills that would be hard to pay if additional work was missed.

O'Malley's first opportunity to join a jury came at 11 a.m. as Judge Wanda K. Heard sought to empanel six jurors and two alternates to hear a civil case stemming from a February 2005 auto accident.

Greeted by another juror's exclamation of "well, well, well," O'Malley took a seat in the middle of the first of five pea-green pews.

The case, Heard told jurors, would probably take two to three days to litigate.

The immediate task was to whittle down a pool of 35 jurors, and O'Malley stood in response to a couple of questions from the judge, including one about whether any prospective juror employed any of the likely witnesses -- including a Baltimore police officer.

"I head a municipal corporation that pays city police officers every two weeks," O'Malley volunteered to some laughter.

Ninety minutes later, it became clear O'Malley had been struck from the jury pool, but it was not disclosed why. About 3:30 p.m., he was steered to the chambers of Judge Kaye A. Allison, where he seemed quite taken by a large mural depicting George Washington's arrival in Annapolis in 1783. Once again, he was spared service.

In between, O'Malley was granted a 90-minute lunch break, which he used to meet with Michael Jacobson, the author of a book about prison reformation.

The book, "Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration," was one of two tucked under O'Malley's arm. The other: "In An Uncertain World: Tough Choices From Wall Street to Washington," by Robert E. Rubin, Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

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