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February 27, 2007
On jury duty: Fighting over soaps
Jury duty in Newark. The administrator explains the process to me and about 100 of my sullen Essex County peers: You're performing a valuable service and duty to democracy. There's the coffee, there's the TV. None of it's surprising until she tells us one of the rules: No soap operas. Turns out that jurors in the past have come to blows over soap operas. Administrators have had to call in the guards to pull them apart. Soap operas are clearly too combustible for courts of law. So the TV watchers reluctantly tuned into game shows. Later in the afternoon, I noticed, soap operas were on. The mood in the jury pool, though, didn't seem too explosive. More like catatonic. We were dismissed en masse at the end of the day.
I spent much of my time reading The New Yorker, including James Stewart's long narrative of the board battle and spying operation at HP. (Two of our colleagues, Peter Burrows and Ben Elgin, were snooped on.) Tech confidential has summary. Bob Sutton offers advice to people who find themselves in similarly poisonous surroundings: "Get out as fast as you can and get as far away from those people as you can: Only bad things will happen to you if you stick around."
The most interesting part of the story, for me, was the battle between the free "cowboy" culture of Silicon Valley, represented by Tom Perkins, and the more cautious, Sarbanes-Oxley approach backed by former Board Chair Patricia Dunn. When Dunn pushes to put more big corporate players on the board, including a vice president from ExxonMobile, Perkins snorts: "How long is their product life cycle? A million years?" It's worth noting that even though Dunn lost the mano-a-mano with Perkins, her board selections eventually prevailed.