Sunday, January 24, 2010

I, the Juror

I’ve been chosen to play a vital role in our legal system.

I am helping advance the cause of justice that dates back to the days of our founding fathers.

I got nailed for jury duty.

I don’t know what I did, but it was enough to get me a seat in the jury box at a civil trial.

There’s nothing quite so depressing as pulling that jury summons out of your mail box. Your heart just sinks, your blood pressure soars and you ask why, why me, why now? I’ve got things to do, goddamnit. Yeah, you and 12 million other people.

I went down to the central jury room and joined a cast of extremely unhappy characters. It was like being in church only here people really pray—as in please Dear God don’t let them pick me!

Voices pour out of the PA system reciting the names of every person on earth, or so it seems. I suspect the afterlife is something like this. We arrive, take our seats in a vast room and wait until the Big Voice calls our name.

I wasn’t feeling at all well on this particular day and I really wanted to get the hell out of there, but I had nothing resembling a decent excuse.

While I waited, I watched a man with a yarmulke sitting in my row ask a young woman with a headscarf if he could borrow her pen. She obliged and they smiled at each other. There’s nothing like the misery of jury duty to bring all kinds of people together.

A man who reminded me of Ice-T got hold of a microphone and thanked us for showing up—like we had a choice. He asked that anyone who had trouble understanding English to form a line on the right side of his desk.

“But if you understood what I just said,” he added, “then you know enough English to serve on a jury.”

Talk about Catch-22.

There were TV monitors in the room showing a film with the late Ed Bradley who told us all how the judicial system had advanced since the days of trial by ordeal, when the law got medieval on your ass.

The film had a scene with a bunch of actors in old time garb tossing some poor bastard into a lake to see if he was guilty or not. This was supposed to make us feel better about being there, but jury duty is a bit of an ordeal in its own right.

I’d seen this film the last time I was called for jury duty some five years ago. I didn’t serve on a trial that time, but I was working as a freelancer web editor back then and losing money every day I was in court.

"I Solemnly Swear..."

When I got back to work, I found that my supervisors had whittled down the web site until it was little more than an adding machine. I essentially had no job and I was canned a short time later. I'm sure my absence and the butchery of the web site was just a coincidence.

I was first called for jury duty nearly 30 years ago and I remember the courtroom was freezing cold—unbearably so, like a meat locker. During the voir dire one of my fellow jurors told the judge he edited comic books for a living.

“Common books?” the judge asked.

“No,” the man said, “comic books—Little Lulu.”

I was interviewed by the assistant D.A., an earnest young man with glasses who actually asked me-with a straight face—that if I wanted to serve on this jury.

Did someone throw you a surprise lobotomy, pal? Of course, I don’t want to do this, you dumb shit, but if I say that, the judge will throw me in the nearest lake. So, risking being struck dead by a lightning bolt, I said, why, yes, I’d love to serve.

I got bounced off this case, but I’m happy to report that they did nail the Little Lulu guy. I always hated that comic.

I was chosen to serve on a jury for a murder trial about 10 years ago. A young man had been accused of shooting another one to death over a stolen TV set.

The defendant claimed that the gun had gone off during a struggle with the deceased, but the prosecution proved that the victim had been shot in the back from more than three feet away.

The victim’s nickname was “Rubber Man” and he’d pretty much have to be Gumby in order for the defendant’s story to be true. We convicted the guy in under an hour.

That’s it, I thought on the way out, I did my bit, so I’ll never have to serve on a jury for the rest of my life, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. On Friday I sat in a room with 20 other people and watched the lawyers whittle us down in search of six jurors and two alternates.

One woman claimed that she'd have trouble serving because she found it so upsetting when people sue each other.

Yeah, lady, I thought, and I find it upsetting when little lulus like you try to bullshit their way out of jury duty.

The lawyers cut her loose and that moved them one step closer to me. When the lawyers came back in after a brief consultation, I knew they were going to pick me.

It could always be worse. The trial doesn't start for another week and the lawyers expect to wrap up in 4 or 5 days.

I'll have a few days away from the office and I'll get a chance to be a part of the system. After all my complaining, I have to say it doesn't sound like an ordeal at all.

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