Friday, September 3, 2010

Jury Duty: An Epic Saga

Today I had jury duty. I have been called a number of times, but due to being out of the state for school, I had never actually served. In fact, I have had a rather strange experience with jury summons in general. I postponed a number of times. The last time, the guy was really nasty to me on the phone and told me that being in school was no excuse. He then helped me set a date that worked for me. When I reported on that day-- at a court about 1.5 hours from my house rather than the close court which I requested-- the receptionist told me rather snottily that I had been put on a list that said I was unfit for service and I had to swear an affidavit to that effect. Realizing that the man who I had talked to had made some kind of mistake, I tried to reason with her and explain what had happened, at which point she barked at me that they did not need me and I needed to go away.

Consequently, today was my first time actually being called. It was a fascinating experience. I had to report at 8:30am this morning in order to start the process. Each juror filled out a form and turned it in. Then, the administrators checked the forms, brought people forward to make corrections to their forms, and then we waited. There seems to be an inordinate amount of waiting in this process. One of the three cases that is being tried today plead-- meaning that there was one civil case and one criminal case continuing, thus requiring a jury. I was called for the 60 juror panel from which the jurors for the criminal case will be selected. After moving buildings, once again, we waited.

We waited so long, in fact, they dismissed us for lunch. I spent lunch sitting outside the building watching the people cross back and forth across the plaza. It was quite an fascinating group. First, there are all the jurors, wearing their badges. Their clothing is varied, but mostly causal and nothing too showy. However, I spot a few interesting tattoos, such as a woman with writing all over her legs and a woman with paw-prints running over her left shoulder. Almost everyone is playing around on a computer or smartphone (although primarily smartphones). I feel more and more that I am behind a generation because I do not possess a smartphone or even a phone with internet enabled. Every single one of my students seems to have one. I walked into the last exam I was proctoring and one guy turns to the other, holding out his iPhone and says "I just liked your status."

Back at the jury, my mom told me to be slightly dressy-- and I am was about the dressiest juror at the court. Even the people who have money, e.g. the woman in the designer shoes with the iPad, the gigantic Coach purse, and some cosmetic surgery-- are wearing jeans or cargo pants. Aside from the jurors, there are the lawyers. They are dressed in suits. Most of them have pretty classy suits, but there are a few Rumpole [1] like lawyers in tweed that looks a little worse for the wear and most of them are middle aged, slightly overweight men. There were a few women I saw in fashionable suits and 4-inch heels who were young, and msot likely the prosecutors from the DA's office.

Finally there are the people with court business. These people can be distinguished by the often ill-fitting quality of their suits/dressy clothing and their conspicuous lack of brief-cases. They also tend to look odd being dressed up-- or be only approximating appropriate gear. In fact, there is a girl who very much reminded me of the girl, Sammy, from New Street Law that the young, annoying lawyer (Joe Stevens played by Lee Williams) defends. You remember-- the girl who showed a lot of legs and cleavage to try to get off. Well, there was a girl a lot like that wearing what was, I am sure, some of her fancier clothing-- a really tight and skimpy black party dress. There was also a woman wearing a long sundress like dress, but it was black and had some designer logo on it. Her breasts were pushed up to the point where they seemed to be exploding over the top of the dress and she wore those gigantic sunglasses that stars wear to hide their faces, over a probably rhinoplastied-nose under died-black hair. It was pretty funny. I wondered what reason she was at the court.

I was finally released from jury duty just before 3pm. The judge told us that he appreciated our patience and that the lawyers had struck some kind of deal so that the case was not going to jury trial. One of the lawyers looked like he could have been out of the Kennedy clan from the late 1960s. He looked like he was out of a photograph, sitting totally still, face turned toward the jury, but slightly down so that we could not see his expression in his eyes. The judge was cartoonishly slight, with a commanding presence and silver hair, but a voice so high it almost sounded like a woman.

After that, I went outside to wait for my mother. She was about 25 minutes away, so I sat down with my the Origins of Greek Thought, which I have almost finished. About ten minutes later, I heard someone speak to me and looked up. A Latino man, probably in his early 30s, asked if he could borrow my pen. He was immaculately dressed in what looked (to my untrained ,but by Project Runway, eye) to be wearing Italian couture, from a perfectly tailored pinstriped shirt and elegant olive slacks. He finished off the outfit with some brown dress shoes which were quite stylish. It was hot and it appeared as though he had left his jacket inside, although he carried a beautifully bound leather volume of some kind. He was walking with a young man, maybe in his mid-twenties, who was also Latino. However, their appearance could not have been more different. The younger man was much taller and broader and wore an oversized black t-shirt and baggy jeans. He had no visible tattoos or jewelry, but other than that he could have easily been a member of a gang (an idea I gained more from the appearance of his presumed lawyer than from the appearance of the young man himself). I handed over my pencil. The two conversed in Spanish for a moment, and the presumed-lawyer wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to the young man. Then, they parted with some strange handshake. I swear, I know it sounds like it was out of a movie, but it really happened.

  1. Rumpole from the UK 80s TV show Rumpole of the Bailey.  This is one of my favorite television shows. Rumpole is a crusty British barrister who quotes massive amounts of Yeats and Wordsworth while defending the criminal underbelly. The show was taken from a series of books by John Mortimer.

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