Maintaining Justice: A Face of America Experience

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

“If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us.” Francis Bacon

Our Face of America Journey took me to the Luzerne County Courthouse this week thanks to a summons I received from the court administrator.

It read:


Without hesitation, reservation, or an attempt to get out of my civic duty, I made my way to the Luzerne County Courthouse. I had been a juror once before, and I enjoyed the process. I was looking forward to another positive experience.

As I drove the blue-lined roads to the courthouse parking garage ten miles from my home, the words of Jefferson, Franklin and Hamilton heightened my anticipation:

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Thomas Jefferson

"If it [jury power] is not law, it is better than law, it ought to be law, and will always be law wherever justice prevails.” Ben Franklin

“I think the first duty of society is justice.” Alexander Hamilton

I was prepared and willing to do my part to make the justice system work.

With the preliminaries, security checks and registration behind me, I took my seat in the back row of the jury board room. It was filled with more than 140 people.

We were greeted and given our instructions by Don Tedesco, jury management supervisor. He was assisted by a young woman named Karen Krutski and a serious-minded man named Jeff Bott.  

Shortly after Don Tedesco finished his presentation, Judge Joe Cosgrove entered the room to extend an upbeat and engaging welcome. 

I have known Judge Cosgrove for many years as a student, a colleague and a friend. In another time and place our paths crossed often.

Today we see one another occasionally. On this day, the relationship was much different.

Judge Cosgrove was dressed in his judicial robe, a symbol of the importance of the moment.  With the infectious smile that is his trademark, he got right to the point with short but effective remarks.

“There is nothing more important that you can be doing,” he said. “You are protecting the constitution.”

“Like the fireman in the firehouse, your waiting to be called is a valuable act of service. It is a very big deal that you are here.”

Judge Cosgrove recognized the inconveniences we would experience; the waiting, the Spartan nature of the jury room, the isolation from others, the need to detach from digital communications when in the courtroom and deliberations. He reminded us that like soldiers in war, suffering is part of service.

He also made a surprising and poignant comment about the recent scandal involving several judges in Luzerne County. “In Luzerne County we have taken some hits,” he said.  “The only way we can restore justice is case by case.”

He ended his remarks with these words; “Have a good and rich experience.”

I was determined to make that happen. The employees of the court administrator’s office, Don, Karen, and Jeff did everything in their power to assure everyone that it would happen.  They were welcoming, courteous, competent and helpful.

As with most things in life, the people in the neighborhood are the ones who make good things happen.  The people in my jury duty neighborhood were a delight to be with.

The person on my right, Mary Ann Court, is a retired Verizon customer service representative.  She is the first person I met after I was cleared by security to enter the courthouse. Mary Ann is pleasant, thoughtful and interesting. She is a natural conversationalist. For three days, we shared stories about work, family and Italian cooking.

Wilbert Dippel is a retired packaging manager. He is quiet by nature.  His twin passions in life are cars and fishing.  His stories about his trips to the Thousand Islands to fish were informative and entertaining. Even more compelling and interesting were the stories he shared about caring for his parents during their years of age, ill health and need. Wilbert is a man who exudes character and integrity. 

Chuck Perez is a man’s man.  He loves cars, and his life has been shaped by his expertise about cars.  He is an avid fisherman and a great storyteller. Every neighborhood should have a Chuck Perez.

Susan Rinehimer is a woman of dignity and class. The moment our eyes met we became fast friends. There is a special quality about her eyes that touches your heart when she talks about her life, her work and her family. At the moment she is attending to some medical issues, and she is making an effort to stop smoking.

Mendy Haas is a young woman who sees the larger issues of life.  She is not drawn to the flash of celebrity. Her life is about family, and a close group of friends. Wendy is thoughtful, caring and kind. She was the only one from our neighborhood selected for a jury pool.

Greg Moyer taught fourth grade. He is a thoughtful person who enjoys traveling to various parts of America. Because of our common interest in teaching and seeing America from the ground up, we had some wonderful conversations about our country and the challenges it faces in education.

Getting to know and spend time with Mary Ann, Wilbert, Chuck, Susan, Mendy and Greg enhanced the jury duty experience for me.  They provided but another collage of the Face of America on its best day. These are the people who make America work in quiet but effective ways. For me, they spoke to the goodness of the American spirit and the value of the priceless gift of trial by a jury of one’s peers. They enabled me to look beyond the discomfort of the steel folding chairs and the long wait to be called for a jury pool. They made the experience rich in many different ways.

In all honesty, most people do not want to be called for jury duty. Some go so far as to argue that the system is antiquated. A few become belligerent and take out their frustrations on the employees who are assigned the difficult task of making the jury system work. Others refuse to register to vote because they mistakenly believe the names of jurors are picked from voter registration rolls. That is not the case.  The names come from driver’s license registration.

In Luzerne County a new jury pool is assembled every week of the year. That’s more than 7,000 names every year, and it’s no small accomplishment to keep all of these people interested, motivated, focused on the important task at hand and moving in the right direction.

The heralded attorney Clarence Darrow said it best:

Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in the courtroom. Justice is what comes out of the courtroom.

Everyone in America should be blessed to be called for jury duty.  It is a humbling, a leveling, and a thought-provoking experience. It puts everything in perspective. It is an opportunity to see America at its best, at its worst and at its beautiful dependence upon people of good will who sacrifice a few days of their lives so that justice will prevail and flourish.

For three days this week, I joined a community of citizens from our county to maintain justice. It was an honor, a privilege, and an opportunity to see America at its best and the faces of America that make it that way.

Thank you, Jeff Bott, Don Tedesco, Karen Krutski, Thelma Kennedy and Mary Malone for the time effort and energy you invest in making the system work to everyone’s advantage.

I hope I have an opportunity to work with you again.  

(Picture of Judge Joe Cosgrove courtesy of The Times Leader, Photograph by Don Carey)

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