Last spring a seventy-nine-year-old woman serving on the jury in the case of the alleged Tyco kleptocrats Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz was seen making a motion with her hand that observers interpreted as an "okay" signal being flashed to the defense team. Because this juror—Juror No. 4—was widely believed to be the lone holdout against conviction in the long-deadlocked jury deliberations, a suspicion of jury-tampering seeped into the atmosphere. Then, despite the venerable practice of shielding the identity of jurors, at least until a trial is over, the name of the woman was divulged by the press, and her picture was soon splashed on the front pages of tabloids. Juror No. 4 turned out to be a grandmother and former teacher named Ruth Jordan, who had earned a law degree after retiring from the classroom; and as it happened, her supposed hand signal to the defense was an innocuous gesture, empty of intent. No matter: she was subjected to much scorn, and received a threatening letter. Disturbed about what had happened, the presiding judge declared a mistrial. Kozlowski and Swartz must steel themselves for more of the same(another courtroom, another festival of embarrassing evidence), but for Jordan life will never again be quite normal.
The details may change, but the general circumstances Ruth Jordan faced have an appalling whiff of familiarity about them: an unwitting citizen is suddenly caught in the pitiless glare of the media, and either can't or won't get out. It is never an edifying sight, and unfortunately, given the way publicity works in America, it is increasingly hard to avoid. A visitor coming fresh to our civilization would remark these squirming figures and take them as a warning, much as anyone approaching a medieval city would have remarked the residue of miscreants on poles and gibbets.