Monday, October 27, 2008

Jury Duty is Patriotic

I sat on a jury once. I'd always been curious about what went on in the jury room, and so when called, I didn't take any of the several opportunities they give you to drop out. If you really don't want to serve on a jury, for whatever reason, just say "I heard about this case, and can't be objective."

But the people on my jury made me proud to be an American. Each one of us sat in the jury box, taking notes or simply watching, as the prosecution and defense walked us through the intricacies of forms and procedures used by the Illinois Department of Public Health. A local administrator was accused of fraud in allegedly cheating the State out of $10,000 or so (for the County's benefit).

The prosecution presented all kinds of evidence about how this lady put dubiously official meals on the county credit card, operated the soda machine petty cash fund in some way that was supposed to be inappropriate, and wasn't liked by the people in her office. They succeeded in making me, and I think the rest of the jury, dislike the defendant.

But, in the end, they had to show that she deliberately tried to claim money for the County that belonged to the State.

We poured over the records. It turned out that there was over $10,000 in mistaken charges, in various categories of mistakes (which we had to learn to recognize as if we were Medicaid auditors). But in every case, comparing the dates of when we were told she was informed of some class of errors to the records, that class of errors would virtually disappear.

We asked the judge if we could count the credit card junk and soda machine "slush fund" in with the Medicaid fund, and he said to read the charges: they were about Medicaid, not credit card abuse.

Having worked for State government, I know how ugly the paperwork is. I'd hate to be charged with fraud, lose my job, and be sent to jail just because I incorrectly filled out the paperwork.

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