Guilty as Charged!

Guilty as Charged!

Once again I’ve been called to jury duty. (You can read about my past adventures in jury duty, here and here.) But unlike the time before, in which I was dismissed at lunch time without so much as a by-your-leave, … Continue reading

Jury Lounge Lizard

Help! I’m a prisoner in a county court building! I’m being held hostage right here, in the jury lounge, of all places, and it’s not at all what the name implies. There’s no subdued lighting, no plush sofas bedecked with decorative, comfy throw pillows to rest my exhausted head upon. No People magazines to peruse, and no soothing sounds of soft jazz.

So what kind of a jury lounge is this anyway? More like an ordinary waiting room, if you ask me. Complete with rows upon rows of chairs and stark, fluorescent lighting. The better to wake us up with, I suppose. After all, it is rather early and most of us are bleary-eyed, having awoken at 5 am to arrive here on time.

And who exactly are we? Just 200 American citizens, as far as I can see. We, the People and all that. Stand-up citizens who got the call to serve—and actually reported for duty. You’ll hear no excuses from us! We are not trying to get out of our civic responsibilities, no ma’am. We’re proud to be here, arm in arm and ready to enforce the law. Ok, maybe not arm in arm. Most of us have settled into a quiet solitude—or a stunned stupor, depending on how you look at it. It’s as if we’re all nursing hangovers and the slightest sound will split our heads in two. With nothing to do but wait. Jury lounge? I’d say, more like jury hell!

And what does a citizen summoned to jury duty wear? Only made-in-the-USA clothing befits an occasion such as this. Which means for me, a moderate, willing to look at both-sides-of-the-case outfit. In other words, nothing flashy or revealing, and nothing I’d wear on the weekends when I’m feeling like a lazy doodle. But somehow my fellow jurors didn’t get the memo, and I am aghast at what I see: everything from flip-flops, shorts, and sweats, to one cowboy vest, two pairs of orthopedic white shoes and one pair of plaid pajama pants. I consider going around and asking certain folks of the opposite gender, to tuck in their shirts.  I have a mind to tell a woman in a peach-colored halter, three sizes to small, to pull it down over her navel, if you please.

Ten trials were to start today, but as of 10:05 am, we’re down to six because four have already settled or plea-bargained. One woman just polished off an entire box of cough drops. Another is filing her nails. A guy sitting beside me appears to be studying up for a French exam. An obviously bored man has put himself in charge of the recycling bin. Anytime someone approaches, to toss a can or water bottle, he gingerly opens it for them. Anything to kill time and we’re all killing time, forbidden as we are to leave.

10:38 and we’re all still jury lounge lizards. Two more cases have settled. 11:16 and still we’re all here. A young woman in stilettos slips on her way to the rest room. Lawsuit, perhaps?

11:23 and Case #7 enters a plea bargain. 11:35 and the natives are getting restless. We’ve yet to have a break from the monotony of waiting and I hear murmurings from the back of a possible breakout. Could it be a jury riot? Who can tell? Suddenly, the woman in the tight halter appears incensed. She’s been tapping her fingernails on the counter to no avail. Her nostrils flare and that can only mean one thing: She’s going rogue! And it looks like the recycling man is right behind her! He’s conjuring up a list of demands or, perhaps, an escape plan. Another five minutes and we’ll all be unionizing.

11:48 and a lady in charge steps up to the podium and the room grows quiet. We can all go home, she announces. Dismissed!  Free to leave! There are no cases to be tried today, she adds for good measure.

What about our protest? I anxiously look around, expecting to see my comrades, my fellow jurors, resolved to continue with our plans to revolt.  We’re not going to fall for this trap, are we?  Obviously rebellion means nothing to them for,  just like that, I see everyone gather their things, put away their books and their laptops, and make a mad dash for the door. I look for Recycling Man, but he’s already abandoned his post and has hightailed it out of Dodge.

Someone yells, “”Prison break!” But then I realize that it’s only me.  Sheepishly, I too leave, feeling used and abandoned.  Only the lady in charge of the lounge remains.  “Nice lounge,” I remark, with only a slight detection of sarcasm.  But what I really want to say is,

“Pardon me, any chance I can get a flag sticker, like we get when we vote, so that I can place it on my lapel to show the world that I participated in the judicial system?”

The lady walks away, and with a dismissive wave of her hand, says, “See you next year.”

Yep, since I didn’t get assigned to a jury, I’ll probably get another summons in 12 months. Oh well. Another riot averted.

I, the Jury

I am a citizen of the world. At least, I like to think so because I am very interested in global issues. Except, maybe when my favorite soap comes on, and I get distracted. (I’m talking to you, One Life to Live!)

I’m also a citizen of the United States and I can count on one hand the times my citizenship have come into play:

  • Applying for a passport and using it to travel outside the country
  • Starting a new job
  • Buying a home
  • Voting during elections
  • And receiving a jury summons

12 Angry Men: 1957 Sidney Lumet classic starring Henry Fonda.

Yes, friends I have been called to jury duty. And if you ask me, there must be a shortage of people eligible to serve.  In my town the rules of serving on a jury are as follows:  If you are called, you come in for a day. If they assign you to a jury, then you won’t be called again for at least three years. But, if you’re not asked to be on a jury, you’re excused from jury duty, though they reserve the right to call you again the following year.

Well three years ago, I served as a juror.  And now, here it is, almost three years to the day, and my number is up once again.  This is my fifth time being summoned.  Of which, I’ve actually served on two  juries.

I take jury duty very seriously.  To prepare, I polish up on my knowledge of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.  I bring in from my garage an old, dusty box filled with high school memorabilia, where I find my civic notes from high school and brush up on the laws of the land (assuming the laws and the process haven’t changed much in 35 years). Finally, I catch up on episodes of:

  • Perry Mason – Don’t you just love how Perry Mason always figures out who’s guilty in the last couple of minutes of each episode?
  • LA Law – Too bad there isn’t a show called “San Diego Law.” That would be too perfect.
  • The Colbert Report – Stephen Colbert is tres patriotic which in turn helps me to get in a very patriotic and judicious mood.

Hopefully, this time I’ll be assigned to an interesting trial.  It’s a crap shoot, if you ask me.  My last two trials were nothing short of dull and duller. In the first one, I had to help determine whether a man of indeterminate wealth had a right to sue the city in the amount of $250,000 for loss of property due to an easement that would expand a city road. The jury took a field trip to the homeowner’s home in order to see the location of the easement. The good news: we determined that the owner had a right to compensation. The bad news: we only awarded him $15,000, far below the amount requested in his lawsuit.

The second trial involved a woman who allegedly walked through a construction site by her apartment building, then fell and hurt her back, consequently experiencing severe pain and emotional stress.  Turns out she had been suffering from back pain for years prior to this incident.  Though members of the jury are not allowed to talk to each other during the trial, I could sense that, like me, the other jurors didn’t seem to have much sympathy for the defense.  Her lawyer no doubt sensed it too, for on Day Two of the trial, the attorneys settled out of court and we were sent home. But not before the judge came out and asked us, if we wouldn’t mind letting the lawyers know whose side we were leaning towards.  We all agreed we didn’t think the woman had a leg—or a back—to stand on. Frivolous lawsuit, if you ask me.

So maybe this time it’ll be different and I’ll get to serve on a trial involving some crime and passion.  Perhaps, the jury will be sworn to secrecy. Maybe we’ll even be sequestered in a posh hotel and get to order in, allowing us to order meals from any restaurant in the city.  Seafood? Italian? The sky’s the limit! I better take a stack of take-out menus with me, just in case.

Maybe I’ll be the lone holdout in the deliberation room.  “But, he’s innocent!” I’ll proclaim with the conviction of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ll even pound my fist on the table for extra effect. Or maybe I’ll be juror #8, the lone dissenter, as Henry Fonda was in Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. I, too, will hold my own at all costs.

Or maybe I won’t get assigned to any jury at all.  We’ll have to wait and see.  After all, my date with destiny is still a few weeks away.