A jury of eight women and six men were selected Tuesday to hear evidence in a Fresno County Superior Court trial that pits legendary Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager against a Fresno law firm.
Opening statements in the civil case are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.
Unlike Yeager, whose heroics include being the first man to break the sound barrier, the jury is mixture of average citizens: a young student with dreams of being a paramedic, a homemaker who takes care of her granddaughter, a retired fire captain who is rebuilding a 1946 Ford with his 75-year-old father, and a school employee who loves oldradio shows like "Dragnet."
The selection process took about three hours, largely because a majority of the potential jurors didn't know Yeager or his exploits as a World War II fighter pilot and as a record-breaking test pilot.
In starting the process, Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan gave an overview of the case: the Fresno law firm of Wild, Carter & Tipton has sued Yeager, 91, and his 55-year-old wife, Victoria, for breach of contract. The firm contends the Yeagers have refused to pay nearly $270,000 for legal services. The Yeagers have counter sued for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty.
Before the selection process began, both sides introduced themselves. While the other participants just said their names, Yeager waved hello and said: "You look like a good bunch of guys to fight a war with."
In an attempt to defuse Yeager's popularity, a lawyer representing Wild, Carter & Tipton reminded the gathering of its purpose. "It's not a war. It's a search for the truth," said attorney Marshall Whitney.
Though Yeager's exploits will be discussed in detail during the trial, the evidence will likely focus on his wife, whom he met on a hiking trail near Grass Valley in 2000 and married in August 2003. Yeager's first wife, Glennis, whom he married in 1945, died in 1990.
Since his second marriage, the general, as he is referred to in court papers, has been thrust into nearly two dozen lawsuits involving a variety of opponents, including his own children. He also has gone through more than 20 attorneys in a span of less than seven years, including 10 lawyers to fight Wild, Carter & Tipton.
During the jury selection process, both sides talked about Yeager's military service, which includes flying missions during the Korea and Vietnam wars.
In questioning potential jurors, Whitney and attorney Mandy Jeffcoach, who is also representing Wild, Carter & Tipton, wanted to know whether Yeager's military service and his status as an American hero would tip the scales of justice in his favor. The potential jurors said no.
Because two potential jurors were born in India, Victoria Yeager asked them if they would be prejudiced against her husband for flying with the Pakistani Air Force during its war with India in the early 1970s. Even though the two potential jurors said no, they were later dismissed from the trial.
Both sides also wanted to know whether lawyers are considered good or bad. A vast majority of potential jurors said they had no qualms about lawyers and found them useful in divorce proceedings and in civil disputes.
But one potential juror said lawyers couldn't be trusted. He said he formed his opinion by watching television shows in which lawyers are portrayed as sneaky. He, too, was dismissed from the panel.
In the end, a chief executive officer for a Fresno hospital, a young man who once worked in Selma bowling alley, and a crop insurance underwriter were among the jurors who will determine whether Yeager and his wife have a legitimate malpractice case against Wild, Carter & Tipton or whether they should pay their bill.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, email@example.com or @beecourts on Twitter.