Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Jury Duty: Can I Have Some More Please?

Posted in Law, NYC by Elliott Back on February 22nd, 2012.

For the past two days I’ve had the pleasure of serving my Jury summons at the New York Supreme Criminal Court at 111 Centre Street. I’ll skip to the end, and tell you that I was not selected to serve as a Juror. In fact, my ballot was never even pulled, so I was personally never questioned or cross examined.

I came into my jury duty thinking of the justice system as a sleek and powerful machine, but left feeling it’s just exhausted old men. The inefficiency of the jury selection mechanism is unrivaled by any other branch of government I’ve encountered to date–and I travel, obtained a greencard through the 9/11 transition, became an American citizen, hold passports in Canada and Finland, file my own taxes, and operate an LLC.

First, the courts’ operating hours are from approximately 9:30 to 4:30 with a 1 hour 30 minute lunch break and two mandated 15 minute breaks in the mid-morning/afternoon. That’s 5 hours of actual work in a day–who else do you know that works 30-hour weeks? Courts do not move particularly quickly, so the short working days are sorely felt.

Secondly, the jury-selection process includes many items that waste time. For example, jurors show up late to the court in the morning without penalty. On the second day, we were requested to arrive by the crackingly early time of 9:30 AM, but we didn’t get started on the roll call until after 10:00 AM due to late arrivals and the apathetic court staff. The first day we also started well after 10 AM due to a terrible educational video they played while the late arrivals straggled in. The process could be streamlined by assessing fines to no-shows, and drawing a line in the sand for the start time–the court can easily instruct potential jurors to arrive 30 minutes early to give enough time to clear security.

Thirdly, potential jurors should receive educational training in advance of their service date. The two judges easily spent 30 minutes each explaining basic concepts of law before they began to randomly draw jurors. Then, each juror was individually questioned about life experience, marital status, etc in a time consuming process that took about an hour per panel. Why not offload this to an e-learning/quiz online? Jurors could come into the courtroom with their responses already in front of the judges/lawyers to move into the deeper questioning period.

Finally, the right of the plaintiffs/defendants to excuse individual jurors should be limited. I watched entire panels of jurors excused arbitrarily, which makes a mockery of the right to a fair trial. In reality, the jury selection process is when the parties in the case attempt to select the jurors they feel will be most receptive to their arguments, violating the spirit of the law. While the ADAs and defense lawyers said that their goals were only to secure an “impartial jury”, they define an impartial jury as one which entirely aligns with their views.

This also wastes vast amounts of time.

Old San Juan in Puerto Rico

Posted in Puerto Rico, Travel by Elliott Back on March 20th, 2011.

The main historical attractions in Old San Juan are its two famous forts, but the colonial historic section of San Juan has its own charms. Many restaurants, shops, museums, historic sites, can be found in viejo San Juan. If you have a day to spare, pack some sunscreen and do it exploring the old city. Maybe 4 km2 in total area, you can easily walk through the entire neighborhood in an afternoon.

The first thing you will notice is the houses, painted in colourful yet harmonic hues, bright, pastel all kinds of schemes, and laced with white trim. These fascades are the price of old San Juan and you can buy replicas in many of the tourist gift shops.

Old San Juan is full of blue cobblestone, one-way streets. These unique tiles were made from slag from Spain’s iron foundries, used as ballast in the boats, and then subsequently bricked into the streets themselves.

One thing interesting you will see is a lot of cats wandering the streets, sleeping in the sun, or stalking birds on the lawns of El Morro. Why are there so many wandering cats in old San Juan? I don’t know!

The streets in old San Juan have great names: calle luna (moon street), cil sol (sun street), cil las monjas (nuns’ street), cil morovis (morovan street). As you wander around you can take pictures with the ceramic street plaques that sit six or seven feet above the street on every corner.

As you leave old San Juan, you’ll pass by again plaza colon (Christopher Columbus) which features a spectacular statue of the navigator and explorer, and engraved metal frescoes of his ships.

More Puerto Rico

Check out these other posts in the Puerto Rico travelblog series:

Old San Juan: Fort El Morro, Fort San Cristóbal

Posted in Puerto Rico, Travel by Elliott Back on February 26th, 2011.

There are two famous forts in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico: Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Felipe del Morro. As you approach Old San Juan from the south, you will come first to San Cristóbal, and then walking to the northmost tip, El Morro:

Fort San Cristóbal

The first fort you encounter into the city, Fort San Cristobal is actually build second, after el Morro, to defend the city of old San Juan from invaders coming by land from the South. Finished in 1783 it wrapped around the bottom mouth of the city, but in 1897 a large portion was demolished to ease traffic flow into the town.


San Cristobal Fort, a National Monument

As you step inside, the Fort opens into a large courtyard:


Interior of the San Cristobal Fort. Under this level are 5 giant water cisterns.

Walk up a level, and you have a great view of the rest of San Juan to the South:


Looking over the battlements

To the north are fantastic views of La Perla and El Morro:


Not to mention the crashing ocean waves

Fort San Felipe del Morro

Construction on the fort started in the mid 15th century to control the harbor, and continued over the next four centuries. With walls six metres thick in places, a lighthouse on top, El Morro has lasted unharmed through many wars and conflicts.


Main entrance to El Morro

Inside is an artillery firing position, and many levels of fort:


See the tracks to the left?

There are many famous sentry boxes:


Also called guerritas

The US military replaced the lighthouse with this one in 1908:


The old one was damaged in the Spanish-American war

Some cannons are left for tourists to photograph:


The larger cannonballs lying in stacks are actually mortar rounds

After you see El Morro, you can take a walk around the front down a paved street called Paseo del Morro, which offers a great view from below of the fort and its garritas. You will pass by or through the old San Juan gate, as well:


Many families and children stroll el paseo del Morro

One of the many guerritas along paseo del Morro:


You should take a photograph from the top, of yourself inside the guard box

More Puerto Rico

Check out these other posts in the Puerto Rico travelblog series:

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