The first time I got a summons, I was number 30 out of 200 people lined up on hard wooden benches to be questioned by the attorneys. They didn't tell us anything about the case, but the questions were all about debts and repayment. And it was very clear that they were wording their questions with great care, to be sure they elicited the answers they wanted -- no more, and no less.
Time and again, the first attorney asked, "Now, have you yourself ever had a debt? And did you repay that debt?" And everyone answered Yes, of course, because the "right" answer was obvious.
But I've always been very alert to shades of meaning, so when he got to me, I didn't give the "right" answer -- I gave the true answer.
"Good morning, Miss, thank you so much for giving us your time today, we all appreciate your cooperation in the judicial system that makes our country great, now, if I may, I'd like to ask you, Miss -- have you ever had a debt?"
"And did you repay that debt?"
"In some cases."
This brought him up short, but he recovered quickly. "Now, we are speaking here only of past debts, not any current debts you may have. We are speaking of debts that have been... laid to rest, shall we say."
"So speaking of those past debts only, have you repaid those debts?"
"In some cases," I said again.
The opposing attorney had been shuffling papers, but now he looked around at me, then glanced at the other attorney, who was looking very unhappy with me.
I understood what was happening: the attorney doing the questioning was attempting to establish a foregone conclusion in the minds of the jurors before they were even selected -- he wanted the jurors to enter the trial with the premise in mind that decent people pay their debts -- ergo, his client should win.
After a moment, the attorney said, "All right then, Miss, let me just ask you, in general, as a rule, would you say that in your opinion, people ought to pay their debts?"
And I said, "If the debts are legitimate, yes."
The guy just collapsed. His head dropped, his shoulders sagged, all the starch went right out of him -- and the opposing attorney over at the table clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh... because I had just introduced his client's defense for him. As far as that poor prosecuting attorney was concerned, in raising the question of whether the debt was legitimate, I'd unwittingly poisoned the whole jury pool.
Needless to say, I was dismissed.