Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jury Duty opening day

So today is Monday, Jan. 31 and I've been answering the call of civic responsibility and undergoing to the jury process for the past week. Obviously, since it's been so long, I've been selected. I've been repeatedly "admonished" by the judge (the Honorable Judge Meigs) not to discuss anything, so all I can say is that it's a murder trial and that the real thing really is nothing like Law and Order. But more on that....

Here are some of the "highlights" of selection, which I have more freedom to write about....

Monday Jan. 24 8:40 a.m. I've been at the courthouse about 20 minutes and hanging out in the Jury Room since I got there. I've learned a few things. First, a jury room isn't any different from a restaurant or dry cleaners, celebrities send autographed hedshots for people to post on the wall -- in this case Kate Hudson. The other thing worth noting is that the jury clerk is "on break" even though the day hasn't started.

9:20 a.m. I'm glad I showed up on time because there aren't enough chairs for the 130 of us or so there. People are on the floor. Also, people start forming fast friendships with others in this similarly dreary situation or they're like me and burying their head in a mag/book while trying not to get roped into a conversation with the dude in the Members Only jacket who seems to be trying to get everyone in a conversation.

9:45 a.m. Jury Clerk starts giving us all general instructions about procedure and closes by saying that a sitting judge will come to speak to us about how we're fulfilling our civic duty and to further explain the state rules about one trial-one service regulation in california. basically, if you're not assigned to a courtroom today you are free of your jury obligation for at least a year. wooooo-hooooo, i naively think to myself. She says the judge will be here around 9:30 usually. We all point to the clock. (this type of time telling is a sign of things to come)

10:15ish The first 30 or so people are called and told to report to a courtroom. Not me. woooo-hooooo I think. Then the jury clerk lets us know that one of the four trials today will need at least 65 potential jurors. Suddenly I find myself getting more nervous.

11:40 a.m. I'm realizing that jury duty would be the best cure for illiteracy--people are reading Maeve Binchy, Gourmet Magazine, the newspaper, Deception Point, textbooks, More magazine. I am one of the 78 people called to report to Courthouse O for that trial. But since it's already close to noon we're given lunch early (at about 11:45) and told to report to that Courthouse O at 1:45 (so two hours). On my lunch break I head to the cafeteria in City Hall, which is across the street, and I notice that the special for every day that week will involve either beef or pork. That's not a good sign. I end up with a Twix lunch.

1:45 p.m. I report to the courtroom feeling good about my chances of being sent home. I figure that with so many people in the room, the odds of me being selected are pretty low, right? I notice the sign on the door to the courtroom reads: "No hats, shorts, tank tops, barefeet, sandals without socks, house slippers, rollers/curlers, food/drinks, gum, smoking, sleeping or shirt tails out." If they actually paid attention to those rules at least a third of the potential jurors would be denied admittance. Fortunately, for me, the scofflaws aren't discarded.

2:20 p.m. We enter the courtroom and all sit in chairs. I end up stuck next to B.O. guy. When you're crammed into courtroom audience seating, being next to B.O. guy is about as bad as it gets. Unless perhaps you're next to bad breath guy who cannot shut up.

2:22 p.m. The judge explains a few basics, tells that we cannot talk about stuff and estimates that this will be a 10-day trial. He also tells us that Los Angeles County is the busiest court system in the United States and that years ago they had a bingo drum (literally, it's still in the courtroom) that the used to randomly select people.

2:30 p.m. The lottery begins. I am not selected in the first group of 18. The jurors are asked a bunch of questions during screening about whether they've been convicted of crimes, are former crime victims, have friends/relatives in law enforcement. Many many people (about half at least) say that they've been a victim of violent crime or know someone who has in this first group. I feel horrible. Living in Los Angeles suddenly feels almost dangerous. (yes, i'm naive, and at this point, actually thought everyone was telling the truth. i hadn't realized some people wanted out of this way more than me and were likely willing to do way more than me to get out of it). So people are either eliminated quickly through the group questions or with individual questions or during the pre-emptory challenges that the attorneys can use.

Up until 4:30 p.m. we keep going through screening. I am not selected to sit up front in one of the 18 chairs (12 for jury and six for alternates. ultimately they'll choose 12 jurors and 2 alternates).

4:30 p.m. we're dismissed for the day. About half of us have been screened. 11 people remain upfront who have made it through group questioning, individual questioning and peremptories. I'm feeling good.

Next morning 10:30 reporting time, about 11 a.m. when we're actually seated.

They are about to read 7 more names, I have a pit in my stomach. I am not called. We screen out some more. And to my surprise some of the 11 who made it through the first round of peremptories are now discarded. I am feeling that pit in my stomach again. After lunch we go through numbers being called out a half dozen times or so, and I skate through each time. As I look around the audience though there are only about 20 of us left and still several open seats up there.

3 p.m.ish they call my number. They ask about my job and I am not immediately discarded. OK, maybe during peremptories. Eventually both sides say that they're happy with the jury as presently constituted, and I'm still sitting on it. We still need two alternates. There are just like 10 people left from our original 78. Eventually after calling 72 names, we have our 14 jurors, including me.

So that's the jury duty story as much as i can tell. Since then i've been on jury duty time, which basically means about 4 hours of actual testimony per day. ugh. we've gotten close in a way, but it's weird when a group of people cannot talk about the one thing they really have in common. so instead we talk about food, our jobs and in some cases previous jury experience. movies also come up, and this group of people really seems to think that john grisham and the movies based on his books are great. oh well. i keep my head buried in "the Devil in the White City." yeah, i'm still a snob.


Oh yeah, one last story, it's short, promise. I turned 29 last year and the day after my birthday one of my students says to me: "So, Mike, if you're only turning 29, how come you've lost so much hair."

worst thing anyone has ever said to me.

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