Thanksgiving Ideas – The Ukiah Every day Journal
This week brings us another Thanksgiving, even though (if you abide by the recommendations of health experts) you might find yourself sitting alone at a big table saying, “Where is everybody?”
Sort of like that pilot episode of “The Twilight Zone,” coincidentally entitled, “Where is Everybody?” when Earl Holliman finds himself wandering around a town that’s seemingly devoid of people. (Holliman, who recently turned 92, has probably reached that age by living in a town with no other people.)
But as I’ve noted in the past, when you write about the tomfoolery and hijinks that go on in court, Thanksgiving isn’t one of those holidays providing as much fodder as, say, Christmas — or even Hallowe’en, probably because it’s a day when most Americans just sit at home and gorge themselves into insensibility. And that’s just on football games.
But there are a few cases that are at least Thanksgiving-adjacent. A sampling:
• One of the few cases that actually deals with Thanksgiving (and not, as often seems to be the case, turkeys) is an 1897 case from Kansas. It seems that on November 29, 1894, which was Thanksgiving Day that year, a judge in Cloud County, Kansas had signed an order reviving a judgment that had been issued earlier in the 1890s, but had lapsed. The order allowed the person who had obtained the judgment to pursue it once again.
The defendant who had lost the original lawsuit objected, taking the case on appeal and arguing that the judge’s order was invalid because it was signed on a holiday. But the court of appeal shot that argument down: “There is no statutory prohibition [in the State of Kansas] against judicial proceedings on Thanksgiving day,” also noting that even under the common law, a holiday was a day when judicial proceedings could take place.
By the way — if you’re wondering how November 29, the fifth Thursday of a month, could be Thanksgiving, that used to be the rule. Abraham Lincoln first declared a Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, and fixed it on the last Thursday of November. Eventually, every President issued annual proclamations designating that Thursday as a day of Thanksgiving.
This lasted until 1941, when at the urging of business leaders hoping to spur holiday sales, President Roosevelt and a joint Congressional resolution moved the celebration to the fourth Thursday in November — where it has been ever since.
• Moving more toward our own time (meaning, less than 125 years or so ago), in 1985 a fellow was charged with the attempted rape of a woman in Wilmington, Delaware. He was stopped by the timely intervention of, first, the woman’s boyfriend, and second, a police officer responding to a report of the attack.
After a two-day trial, the case was submitted to the jury for decision at 2:26 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Promptly at 4:51 p.m., the jury returned a guilty verdict.
The defendant argued that the jurors must have felt under pressure to reach a verdict before 5:00 p.m. — either out of fear that they would be sequestered over Thanksgiving (“Let’s see — for your Thanksgiving dinner, we have eleven turkey sandwiches, and one roast beef. Eleven coffees and one hot tea.” And so on.). Or, perhaps equally bad, the jurors might have feared having to re-assemble for further deliberations the following Monday.
The court saw no problem with this, and upheld the conviction. Of course, the jurors had deliberated for more than three hours, which isn’t that bad for this kind of a case. It might have been different if the judge had given them the case at 4:51 and said, “Okay, you’ve got until five o’clock.”
• Somewhat ironically, in 1988 there was an Indiana murder case in which the defendant made more or less the opposite argument. His case was tried shortly before Thanksgiving. When the jury was unable to reach a verdict before Thanksgiving, the judge gave everyone the rest of the week off (can’t miss those Black Friday sales!) and told them to return Monday. After deliberations resumed, the defendant was convicted.
The defendant argued that giving the jurors four days off, instead of having them re-assemble on Friday, violated his right to due process of law. But as in the Delaware case, the court of appeal found that there was no due process violation. The judge had admonished the jurors not to discuss the case with anyone over the break.
So, taking these three situations together, if you get convicted, it won’t matter whether it happens before . . . or on . . . or after Thanksgiving.
Frank Zotter, Jr. is a Ukiah attorney.