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Seeking justice for Cyclist Chris Robertson
by Jean Davis (jeandiva99 [at] yahoo.com)
Tuesday Nov 6th, 2001 10:08 PM
These notes are from my husband Pi Ra, who attended the trial Monday. Please attend the trial if at all possible this week. It takes place in San Francisco at 400 McAllister, Room 504 with Judge Dondero. It may only last a week, This after waiting a year, and many people getting involved.
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Day One in the Chris Robertson case

“Potential Jury members entered the courtroom at 9:30. Introduction to the case by the Judge started at 10:00. The trial is projected to last 41/2 days. If longer, it will be continued starting on November 17 (the anniversary of Chris’ death). Trial will be on Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 12:00 and 1:15 to 4:30. Friday’s schedule is 9:00 to 12:30.

Jury selection started with the judge asking the basic and agreed upon questions:

-Will being on the jury cause any hardship?
-Hearing the basic description of the case, do you have any bias?
-Do you have any bias regarding the rules and structure of this trial?
-Do you recognize or know the defendant, witnesses or victim?
-Have you been in, or do you know of anyone that has been in a serious auto accident?
-Anyone biased for or against the Hispanic population?
-Do you drive? x-Is there any religious belief that would make you biased in this case?

Main questions by Andrew Clark (DA Office): Follow up on the judge’s questions (one potential juror of course said bikers never abide by the law. She later said many drivers don’t either. She was excused).

-Anyone have a problem understanding English, (something the judge should have asked)?
-Who has never ridden a bike? (Only one hadn’t)
-Do you drive and/or do you have a drivers license, (3 or 4 didn’t).
-Have any of you been assaulted?
-Has anyone had a bad experience with the police?
-Do any of you have any bias for/against the teamsters?
-Most of Clark’s questions were very tame and standard.

Mr. Smith (defendant’s lawyer) was a bit more dynamic and thorough.
-Do you still ride a bike?
-What kind of bike riding do you currently do?
-Is anyone a member or do you follow any bicycle groups, (political, recreational, etc)?
-Has anyone had any bad experience with a bicycle group?
-Does anyone regularly bike or drive through 4th and 3rd Street?
-What is your opinion regarding a bicyclist riding under the influence?
-Is anyone familiar with Casey’s (Employer of Reuben Espinoza)?
-If the audience was heavily in favor of the defendant or persecutor would that influence you?

Again it seemed that Smith did his homework and knows enough to take advantage of some of negative bicyclist stereotypes.

Opening statements:

Clark: “Espinoza was impatient, acted out of road rage, pretty much lost it, While the bicyclists were not out to stop traffic but doing a memorial ride for a fallen colleague.” Clark repeated himself many times. He spent too much time stating that the jury must decide on the evidence, not what the lawyers have to say. He went over our side of the story but with little emotion. Spent too much time telling the jurors their responsibilities.

Smith: “The bike riders were drunk, disorderly, breaking traffic laws, looking for a fight and wanting to prove a point with the truck driver, Espinoza. Espinoza on the other hand was just trying to get back to the office in order to go home to his family. He tried to go around them but he was surrounded. He tried stopping the truck and waiting for the bicyclists to go, but his passengers felt the bicyclists would try to harm them. The bikers were ready to let Espinoza leave but no one told Chris. So Chris continued to block the truck and Espinoza didn’t see him. It was a tragedy.”

One contradiction that struck me was that Smith called this a political group of bicyclists, when in fact it was a group of bike messengers who if anything are apolitical, and were on a memorial ride for a murdered friend. Smith also said that when Espinoza hit the horn, the bikers became “angry and confrontational”, but Smith downplayed the throwing of the block of wood by saying that “due to the angle of the throw and driving the truck at the same time, I know it’s not PC and I hate to say it, but Espinoza threw like a girl.”

Smith is dynamic but tends to push the envelope. Clark objected 3 times regarding Smith’s opening statement and the judge sustained those objections. During the opening statement, Smith stated that the bicyclists were looking for a confrontation.”

It remains to be seen if Attorney Smith will get away with characterizing a group of bikers on a memorial ride for a murdered friend, as a group of thugs looking for a fight. Smith is a very good lawyer. Espinoza’s union, the Teamsters, paid him 25 grand to stay on the case and they’re getting their money’s worth. As a union member myself, I find that a pretty poor use of union dues. As friends of Chris, we find it unfathomable.

Jean Davis & Pi Ra