The Independent
80th Year, No.29
Saturday, April 12, 2003

Belmont man refuses
jury duty as war rages

Tobey says he will not comply as long as Bush 'flouts' law

By Clay Lambert
Independent Newspapers

REDWOOD CITY - Ray Tobey walked into the courtroom of Joseph Bergeron April 2 and promptly muddied the jury pool with talk of the war on Iraq.

Tobey had been called to the San Mateo County Courthouse for jury duty. When the judge asked him whether he had any problems serving during a two-week trial, the Belmont man replied, "I believe our government is flouting the Constitution, ignoring the U.N. and breaking international law."

Tobey continued by saying he could not cooperate with the government while bureaucrats in Washington waged a war he did not support. He said he would rather go to jail than to participate in the system.

For now, Tobey is neither on the jury nor in jail. Tobey said Bergeron sent him home, saying he would be called if he were needed.

"I was a little surprised," Tobey said. "I was expecting him to bang his gavel and maybe charge me with contempt. I think what is going to happen is that there will be an axe hanging over my head for some time."

Bergeron did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Bay Area war protest organizations "Not In Our Name" and "Direct Action" did not answer calls for comment.

It could not be determined whether Tobey's particular brand of anti-war protest was a first. But jury protests are nothing new.

Legal observers have said "jury nullification," when a juror refuses to convict because he or she does not believe in the law at issue, has been on the rise for years. The Washington Post reported that African-Americans in the District of Columbia have been known to render not-guilty verdicts because they believe drug laws unfairly target people of color. Some say the high-profile trials of O.J. Simpson and Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry were influenced by jurors who sympathetic to defendants because of their race.

But Tobey had no issue with the trial taking place in Bergeron's courtroom. His complaint was with the government itself.

In a letter he delivered to the judge the next day, Tobey wrote: "My refusal was perhaps out of place or even foolish. But to act as if things were normal, to have refrained from speaking out, would have bothered my conscience considerably."

Tobey is a computer programmer who says civil disobedience is not second nature. He referred to some of the tactics of San Francisco protesters as "mayhem" and he has no plans to protest the war by ignoring the April 15 tax deadline.

"I don't think the IRS will be nearly as reasonable as the judge was," Tobey said.