About two weeks ago, I watched with interest from a back row seat while Judge Darrow in Yavapai County Arizona made a very formal exercise of having the alternate jurors in the James Ray (The Secret) sweat lodge trial chosen completely at random, numbers drawn from a hat, in open court. He made sure the attorneys had an opportunity to inspect the hat, which both sides declined.
Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow presiding over the sweat lodge trial
In at least one other high profile trial I've been to in Arizona, but in a different county, it was an open secret that the selection of the alternates was not random, at all. Although done in open court, jurors who had given glimpses along the way of bad behavior (forming opinions, sleeping in court, etc.) were the ones who magically became alternates and did not participate in the final verdict.
Interesting to see Judge Perry, who has been a great stickler for courtroom procedure (I wouldn't want to be Matthew Bartlett, would you?), had no qualms about having the alternates chosen behind closed doors.
I guess the takeaway is that law is a matter of constant evolution in this country, even in these small matters. From trial to trial, the varying personalities involved bring different opinions about what the law means and what justice requires. So, in Judge Darrow's courthouse with the magnificent views, justice is very concerned with the selection of alternate jurors. In Judge Perry's Florida courthouse, alternates are more a matter of administration than of justice. I suppose one day you could see a supreme court challenge and then every U.S. courthouse would have to use the same standard, a la the Miranda warning. This little matter of the alternate juror lottery gives a digestible object lesson in how law works in this country.
The Miranda warning, by the way, was an Arizona case. And one of the lawyers with a direct link to it, was kind enough to offer up some legal insight to readers of this blog in regards to the James Ray case.