These are not my peers

So, I had jury duty this week. I had postponed it once, but when I tried to postpone it this time, the automated system said there were no more dates available (wow! that many people want to go to jury duty?), so off to the courthouse I went.

I tend to take anything involving the law fairly seriously, given that I couldn’t talk my way out of any number of traffic tickets over any number of years, so if I get a form letter from a judge that says I need to be somewhere at 8:30am, I will be there. In fact, I will be early.

Monday

I arrived at the courthouse at about 7:45am, because I got an early train, because I left my house too early. I was afraid of over-sleeping, so I couldn’t really sleep that well.

Yes, I really get paranoid when the law is involved.

8:30am. After finally signing in, I just read books on my iPad until the introductory film was shown. Wow. Local TV news anchors explaining why jury duty was a good thing to do. We’re here, don’t try to sugar-coat it for us.

In a way, it’s like the seat belt film on airplanes – you really should know all this stuff by now, but somebody in the back isn’t going to know that a jury decides the facts in a case, so everybody watches the film.

9:15am. I am juror 109 on my summons. The first group called was forty-something to 180-something. Off to the courtroom we go.

We found the courtroom, but it was closed. Well, occupied. Eventually, the bailiff came out and explained we were going to be in a temporary courtroom down the hall. So, we all moved down the hall. And waited. And waited. Luckily, there were sixty of us and seats for about forty. The bailiff gave us placards to identify us. I was number 35. Since there were twelve jurors in a district court, that seemed pretty far down the line.

I love the placards. It helps the attorneys call on you without mispronouncing your name or having to say, “Excuse me, the old black guy in row three” or “The chubby woman in the a Grateful Dead t-shirt.” “Hey, number 35!” is much better. (“Hey 19” is a Steely Dan song.)

11:00am. Finally, we entered the courtroom, and sat down. Everybody stands when the jury enters the room. We’re important! We’re also two hours behind and we haven’t done anything yet.

I looked around. There were six attorneys in front of the judge. Three per side. This is not a good sign. Teams of lawyers mean somebody thinks there is a large amount of money at stake.

The attorneys introduced themselves. The plaintiff’s side had a jury selection specialist, as well. Ruh-roh. How big a case is this? How long a case is this?

The judge said the attorneys had designed a questionnaire to help speed up the voir dire process. Voir Dire is a French term that means “pry into your private life to see if you will vote against us.”

Then, the judge said it would probably be about a two-week case. Panic filled the air.

Now, my job is pretty flexible on time and space and my boss looks at results instead of hours – I work at home, I get my email on my phone, I can work 24×7 from just about anywhere, but there were some people in there who were not looking forward to a two-week enforced vacation in a courthouse. A couple of self-employed people mentioned the $40 per day wasn’t enough. I was just trying to figure out if it was going to interfere with my business trip to Vegas at the end of the month. Sometimes, it’s good to be a white-collar dude.

The judge said he would adjourn so we could fill in the forms, and after we did that, if anyone had a reason they couldn’t be on the jury, he would meet with them “after lunch.” His idea of “after lunch” was 2:30pm. It was 11:20am. He said if we didn’t have a reason we couldn’t serve, we were done for the day. Be back at 9am tomorrow. So, my first day of jury duty ended before noon.

Tuesday
I gave myself an extra half-hour of sleep, since I had been so early on Monday. I even stopped at 7-Eleven for coffee on the way to the train station. I still managed to get to the courthouse by 8:15am, so there was time to kill. Again. I should have gone downstairs for more coffee.

9:00am. Time to start. The bailiff said five people had been dismissed yesterday, so we had 55 people left in the panel. At 9:30am, we were still missing people.

Now, as I was walking over from the train station, I noticed a lot of traffic. Then, I remembered they were filming yet another JFK miniseries, so the roads were all blocked. Now, I’m sure as a photographer, I would want to shoot in early light, but early light in downtown is called “rush hour” and people are bitchy.

I wondered how many people didn’t know about the miniseries.

The answer? At least ten.

9:30am We’re still missing people. Now, they’re making a judge and attorneys wait, and a guy with a gun is in charge of finding them. This is when I realized these are not my peers. My peers would have been here at 8:15am, fully caffeinated and ready to go, and wondering if they weren’t possibly guilty of whatever the case was.

The bailiff walked through with Juror badges, for those who forgot theirs. I had mine.

Seriously? How many people can’t follow directions? Be here at 9:00am. Wear your Juror badge. We’re on the sixth floor. (Ironic, with the JFK filming. I just realized that.)

9:54am Still missing two people. WTF? We’re now waiting just to get started waiting.

10:24am The last one staggers in. Apparently, the traffic is bad. Did no one else know they were filming in downtown?

10:33am Lining up with our placards. The bailiff says, “If you need a restroom break in there, just signal me, and I will let the judge know.” Six women signal him immediately. We’re not even in the courtroom yet! We have been waiting for an hour and a half to get started, and now you want a pee break? What have you been doing for the past ninety minutes, other than filing your bladders?

After all the ladies (and the three gentlemen who bowed to peer pressure) returned, we finally enter the courtroom. Now, the day can begin.

The plaintiff’s attorney questions the group and specific people until ten after one. No lunch break. One potty break. There is an insane amount of questioning. How do you feel about mental anguish? (Many say there’s no such thing, it’s just life. This has the potential to be a “put your big girl panties on and get over it” jury, which would be great for the defense.) How about loss of consortium? I tried not to laugh, because if these people don’t think mental anguish is a problem, loss of income and a bit of nookie is not going to be an issue for them, either. It wasn’t, even after consortium was explained. Actually, everyone was just thinking sex until somebody mentioned loss of wages if the injured party couldn’t work. How about punitive damages? A few were against them, because they went to the person, not the State. Wow.

I’m getting worried. I’m surrounded by people giving honest, truthful answers that are going to get them tossed, and I don’t really have an issue with any of the questions, because the prefix to every question (as in every voir dire question) is “Will you follow the judge’s instructions as to the law?”)

I’m actually impressed that they’re going to get tossed by being honest and not because they’re trying to get tossed. I was thinking of all the answers to give that would put me on the “bad” list, but I just can’t do it. Besides, the case was beginning to sound interesting.

So, these are not my peers. I will follow the judge’s instructions. I will be open-minded. I’m not making a bunch of pre-judgements. I would grant a mental anguish award if I thought the case was proven. I could understand a loss of consortium claim and I had actually heard the term before. I understood the concept of punitive damages. Unlike one rather loud woman in the back of the room, I do not watch Judge Judy “because she is so wise.”

1:10pm. Lunch break – we need to be back at 2:20pm so we can get started with the defense questioning. There’s a Greek diner in the basement of the courthouse that is really good. I was back by the courtroom by 2:00pm, and I was concerned about being late. Naturally, we get started at 2:45pm. Oy vey, people, there are clocks everywhere in here.

2:45pm. The defense asks similar questions, but from a more defensive position. Obviously. The same people who said “No, I can’t” now say, “I can.” Both sides of attorneys are taking notes furiously.

I’m wondering how I’m going to like getting to the courthouse at 9am every day for two weeks. I’m wondering if the case will be done before I have to leave for Vegas.

4:45pm. The defense is done asking questions and receiving assurances. We’re all sent outside so the grownups can chat. (It’s like all the game shows where you have to go slightly off-stage so the judges can decide who to send home. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like.)

Waiting some more.

This may be an interesting time to point out for those who aren’t following closely – this is day two of jury duty and the case hasn’t started yet.

5:30pm. The bailiff comes out. Are we done? Are we picked? No, of course not! However, if you parked in the garage or any of the local surface lots, those attendants go home at six o’clock, so if you want your car to drive home, maybe you should go move it to the street and come right back.

I’m wondering how long this will take.

We’ve outlasted the parking lot. I am so glad I rode DART. I have until 2am or so, before the trains stop running.

It’s almost ten to six, we’re all back, and we’re lead into the courtroom one last time.

The bailiff had said earlier in the afternoon the jurors with low numbers go first, unless they were struck, so if you have a high number, you’re probably safe. Each side has six peremptory strikes, so that’s only twelve people dropped, right?

They need twelve people. I’m number thirty-five. Can I just go home? There’s a train in six minutes.

First juror called was number four. Then, number six or seven. Hmm. How many other strikes are there?

Wow. They’re leaving a lot bigger gaps in the panel that I would have thought. Twelve, you say?

I realize the woman next to me was one of the ones who was honest. Ruh-roh. I wonder if she was too honest.

The twelfth juror called? Number thirty-four. I thought juror thirty-six was going to collapse into my arms, sobbing. She was sweating bullets.

Spending two weeks at work has never looked so good.

Good luck to the twelve. I’m with you in spirit.