Thursday, October 03, 2002

I spent the last two days in a Santa Clara courtroom, going through jury selection. No, I wasn't busted for anything - I was called to jury duty and was nearly nabbed for a six-week journey into Hell.

Tuesday morning I didn't even make it into the courtroom; we were held in the waiting room downstairs while hardship cases were being heard. Jury selection started at 1:30, which was when we found out the case and that it would be six or seven weeks before it was over. This news, of course, started another round of people asking for hardship excuses.

Over the next day-and-a-half, the initial group of over 125 potential jurors was whittled down to about 35 in the search for twelve jurors and four alternates. We all sat patiently as names were called up to the box, questioned by the judge and lawyers, then went through several rounds of challenges when the lawyers would veto the jurors they didn't like. After the challenges, new names would be called to fill those seats, and the process would repeat itself.

By about 4:00 PM on Wednesday the twelve seats in the jury box were full, and there were enough people up in the hot seats to fill the alternate positions, even if each lawyer used all their available challenges. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would be set free shortly. Then it got surreal...

One of the seated jurors had a panic attack and had to be quickly excused and led out of the courtroom. Two of the potential alternates had spontaneous nosebleeds and the row filled up with bloody tissues. More names would have to be called. At 4:20 I was asked to fill the final open seat.

After answering the questions from the judge and attorneys it was challenge time. If each attorney used all the challenges they were allowed, I'd be moved up into an alternate position. Thankfully, the prosecution passed on his last two vetoes. I would not be needed. At 4:35 I was thanked and excused and left with those who had spent two days waiting in silence.

On the way out of the courtroom several of them congratulated me on my narrow escape. Feeling lucky, I bought a Lotto ticket on the way home - the Jackpot was up to $57 million. I just checked; I did not win the Lotto. But I am glad to be able to return to work today.

Here's the details of the case:

The case was the People vs. Steven Allan Ristau. Ristau is charged with six counts of securities fraud and two counts of filing false state income tax returns and one count of state income tax evasion, all worth up to 18 years in prison and $10 million in fines.

Ristau supposedly bilked more than 700 investors out of more than $3.7 million by selling unregistered securities based on technology that did not exist. That this is a crime was apparently not known in 1999 and early 2000 when the activities allegedly occurred in this case, and all over Silicon Valley.

Ristau's company,, was supposed to have developed a new wireless technology for broadcasting movies wirelessly over the Internet. During demonstrations he claimed that the company's set top box was receiving a digital movie from a source located 12 miles away when the box was actually receiving a signal from a commercially available wireless LAN hidden in the ceiling a few feet away.

Read more about the charges in the San Jose Business Journal.

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