Lemons: How Steven Seagal Tried Ditching Jury Duty, Pleading 'Extreme Financial Hardship' (VIDEO)
When he's not hobnobbing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, touring Europe with his blues band or keeping his Aikido skills sharp for his next martial-arts flick, Hollywood star and dojo-master Steven Seagal is just another member of the hoi polloi.
Sure, he may be tight with the Dalai Lama, own a multimillion-dollar home near Carefree and rival Chuck Norris and Jean Claude van Damme when it comes to acting chops, but in one crucial respect, Seagal shares the woes of the common man.
He, too, cannot escape jury duty.
Not that he didn't try a couple of years back, with the assistance of Scottsdale attorney Mark Goldman, who shares with Seagal a longtime friendship with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sure, Goldman did his lawyerly best.
He called and e-mailed the Office of the Jury Commissioner, and wrote letters to the court on Seagal's behalf.
Goldman even appeared with Seagal before Superior Court Judge Randall Warner in 2015 to plead his client's case that Seagal's jury service would cause extreme financial hardship for the actor and the many people who depend on Seagal's films to earn a living.
In a recent interview, Goldman explained to me that Seagal is often away filming in Europe or Asia, and so missed several summons from the court to appear and do his civic duty.
"By the time I got involved in the case, it had already escalated to the point that the arm of the court responsible for making sure people show up for jury duty was less than sympathetic," Goldman said.
In one letter to the court, Goldman offered an affidavit from Seagal's production company attesting that the stone-faced action hero of such movies as Under Siege, The Glimmer Man, and Exit Wounds was then in Bucharest, Romania, filming the straight-to-DVD feature Absolution, and so could not report for jury service.
Goldman argued that Seagal's absence from the set could endanger Seagal's ability to make more movies in the future — something Seagal's detractors no doubt would applaud. It also would adversely affect the film's many workers both in America and Romania.
"Mr. Seagal's contracts are personal service contracts where it is clearly impossible for him to delegate his work to another individual," one of Goldman's letters read, in part, "nor is a 6'5" stunt double martial artist available with a 7th degree black belt in Aikido."
In his letters, Goldman cited the Arizona statute allowing for a financial hardship exception to jury duty. He contended that Seagal's presence among other jurors would be a distraction.
Also, according to Goldman, he played the Putin card.
"One time Seagal was actually in Russia," Goldman recalled when we spoke. "And I sent [the jury commissioner] an article discussing his spending time with Putin and the alleged bromance that they have."
As an aside, it's worth noting that in November Seagal scored Russian citizenship via a presidential order from Putin. And the Russian Federation is not the only country to have so embraced the perpetually tanned, jet-maned 64-year-old. Last year, Serbia granted Seagal citizenship, with Serbian leaders asking Seagal to train that nation's special forces in martial arts.
Ultimately, Goldman's various legal gambits were of no avail.
After sending several summons to Seagal, the jury commissioner issued what's known as an "order to show cause," meaning Seagal had to show up and explain why he shouldn't be found in contempt of court.
New Times obtained video footage of the April 2015 hearing before Superior Court Judge Randall Warner.
It ain't exactly the Jodi Arias trial, but there is an amusing passage where Goldman questions Seagal under oath about one time he couldn't make jury duty because he had the flu, asking him if he sought medical treatment.
"I just took over-the-counter stuff," Seagal replied in a soft voice. "Because the flu is not really something you have to go to the doctor for."
Under questioning by Goldman, Seagal also avowed that he had no intention to show contempt for the court.
Warner asked Goldman how many days out of the year Seagal is in Maricopa County. After conferring with Seagal, Goldman says Seagal is away from his home here at least 60 percent of the time.
"That's 40 percent of the time that he's here," Warner observed. "And it seems to me the jury office has tried to make arrangements to get dates that are convenient to him."
At one point, Warner wondered what day Seagal could return for jury service. Seagal stammered, saying that he didn't have his "secretaries" or his "logs" with him and did not know what dates were good.
"How's Monday?" asked Warner.
A long pause ensued. The hearing was occurring on a Friday, you see.
"I think I'm going to need a little more time, if that's okay, your honor," Seagal replied.
A discussion took place between the representative for the jury commissioner, Candace Atkinson, Judge Warner, and Goldman about Seagal's financial hardship claim. Atkinson said that mostly what's taken into consideration when granting a reprieve is abject poverty.
"We have people that make way less money than Mr. Seagal who come in for jury service," Atkinson told the court. "So he did not qualify for financial [waiver]."
Goldman tried to argue that the statute involved doesn't say anything about poverty, exactly, and that the financial hardship would not be borne just by Seagal but by others connected to his films.
Warner, a no-nonsense guy who has probably heard every excuse imaginable, wasn't buying it. Especially since, according to Atkinson's testimony, the court had sent out six jury duty summons to Seagal over a 12-month period, with no success.
"Everyone does jury service," Warner said. "John McCain found a day, took jury service, and a lot of [people] depend on him. Judges do jury service. I've had a number of my colleagues on the [jury] panels. I get doctors, I get lawyers. I get business owners, I get street sweepers. Everyone comes in and gets jury service."
The judge continued his little lecture for Seagal.
"I do these hearings every three months," he said, referring to order to show cause hearings. "I've never had the jury office bend over backwards to accommodate someone's schedule as much as they have in this instance. There have been several occasions where a date was agreed upon, and then there was a no show."
Warner told Seagal that he could bring up his hardship claim, to the trial judge if he got picked for a jury panel. He then found Seagal guilty of contempt and fined him the max, $500.
But Warner also gave Seagal a date toward the middle of the month, as Seagal had asked for previously, and told him that Goldman had five business days to contact the jury commissioner's office in writing and pick another date, if need be.
Seagal gave the judge the thumbs up,
"Thank you," the actor said.
Goldman told me that Seagal had gone in for jury service, got as far as a courtroom, where prospective jurors were asked questions, but was immediately dismissed. (I was not able to confirm this fact with the court before this column was published.)
There was one last interesting bit of testimony from Atkinson early in the hearing, as she was recounting the history of Seagal's no-shows. She said that after the court sent a second summons to Seagal, an attorney called and requested that Seagal be excused "due to notoriety and being a peace officer."
Atkinson said that request was denied because Seagal is not certified with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, as all Arizona cops must be.
Goldman told the court that he had not made that claim, that it was a previous attorney that worked the case. All the same, it raises the issue of Seagal's long association with Arpaio as a member of the sheriff's posse, during which Seagal went out on raids with the MCSO, a film crew in tow, recording everything for his reality series Steven Seagal: Lawman.
Without going through Seagal's whole history with the MCSO, this included both a notorious raid on a Laveen chicken farm and a simulated school shooting in Fountain Hills as part of Seagal's training for the posse on how to respond to such emergencies.
Seagal's involvement with the MCSO was criticized by many, including Arpaio's former executive chief Brian Sands. Also, as I reported in 2011, a similar relationship that Seagal had with the sheriff's office of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, ended in controversy.
Since Arpaio is no longer sheriff after losing in 2016 to his Democrat Paul Penzone, I asked the MCSO if Seagal still had an association with the sheriff's office. MCSO spokesman Sergeant Joaquin Enriquez told me that at the present time, there is none.
Goldman said Seagal had informed him that he was an "active police officer" in two jurisdictions, but not in Arizona. Goldman didn't know what two jurisdictions these were, but that Seagal's alleged status as a LEA likely would have disqualified him from being a juror as well.
In any case, can you imagine showing up to jury duty and Steven Seagal is sitting in the jury pool with you? I hope he would sign autographs, at least.
I must say, there is something about this tale that reaffirms my faith in the judicial process.
Especially here in Maricopa County, where even the occasional celebrity may find out the hard way he is not Above the Law.
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