09 September 2005

or, how i learned to love jury duty

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one person to make a phone call the night before, and to assume among the Powers of Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them (assuming you're registered to vote), a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should go to the state or federal courthouse and declare the causes which impel them to the Jury Duty.

At first, I was annoyed. "Fuck. Jury Duty? Again?" I'd been summoned twice in Georgia, both times escaping any real responsibility. And I knew this was coming; I'd gotten that stupid survey a month or so ago. But just before my standby date, I realized, "waiiiiiit a minute, if I'm at Jury Duty, I’m not at work!" Thus, I fell in love with the American justice system.

"At this time, we are asking all jurors to report." The words fell into my straining ears like the name of an 8-year-old’s school being read off the snow day list. Hurrah! No work tomorrow.

Since it was Brooklyn Civil Court (a place with which I am well familiar) to which I was summoned, I came readily prepared to beat the bureaucracy. I breezed through security. I'd left my cameraphone at home so as to avoid another nasty run-in with the voucher table; as I passed it, I directed a knowing smile at the confused standers-in-line.

I managed to get in a lift with working light-up buttons, and disembarked on the cheerful 3rd floor. Lots of signs directed people to various places, and I followed mine to the Jury room.

For some reason, everyone had chosen to sit at the back of the room, perhaps never getting past that elementary school idea that the cool kids sat in the back. Having never been a cool kid, I took a seat in the center.

Clearly someone was concerned about how enjoyable our JD experience would be -- there were plenty of pretty comfortable chairs, two (!) vending machines (one of which provided me with a bag of chocolate Teddy Grahams) and a library, although that consisted mostly of O Magazine, Jet, Good Housekeeping and, of course, tons of crime novels.

Right below the small TV which would soon show us one of the strangest pieces of film ever put together, was a sign which read:
"We are trying to make our juror facilities as comfortable as possible.
If you are experiencing a problem (i.e., broken pay phones, untidy restrooms, etc...)
Please notify the jury clerk or call 1800nyjuror"
and to be honest, the only thing I considered calling 1800nyjuror about was to tell them that I think they meant "e.g." instead of "i.e."

The video about Jury Duty is surely one of the mysteries of the Universe. It begins like an episode of “Secrets of the Dead”, with men in hoods, clearly from hundreds of years ago, savagely marching through a forest. They had bloodlust in their eyes…Then a guy who looks a whole helluva lot like Ed Bradley comes on and starts talking about Trial by Ordeal, and how nutty it is. In case “Ed’s” description isn’t enough to convince us, the video cuts to a shot of a guy being bound and thrown into a lake, horrified eyes bulging, mouth inexplicably open. He sinks. Which means he is innocent. And probably dead.

OMFG. It IS Ed Bradley!

People-on-the-street interviews illustrate how jury duty is uncool; various races, sexes and socio-eco backgrounds all agree: no one really likes Jury Duty.

Ed then whisks us away to “400 years before the birth of Christ”, when the ancient Greeks were doing something with justice. Then the Romans, who didn’t have juries. And those crazy Euros, who made a lot of nice stained glass (a lot of which was in this video), but had that whole “trial by ordeal” nonsense. There was some talk about Charlemagne’s group of dudes who told him who was doing what. And then there’s England, where William Penn was found not guilty and the jury were thrown in jail. But it’s all good, because some nitwits settled the US and we don’t put the jurors in jail.

“Every citizen can actually participate in our justice system…and that’s why you are here today”.

Surely it’s over now. No, apparently, it will never be over…A new, female voice introduces a clip from “Perry Mason” and tell us “what a rich source of material our justice system has been for entertainment”. What a rich source, indeed. “Johnny! Don’t!” “I won’t let yeh take the rap for me [dollface]” dun-dun-DUUUN.

The new voice-over reveals herself as Diane Sawyer. And she means business. She wants us to know that it’s not like it looks on TV, everything is not wrapped up in a little package. We have to figure it out for ourselves. She reminds us that if we are excused during the voir dire, “it is in no way a reflection on your intelligence or integrity,” despite the fact that it clearly is.

She reminds us that lawyers will be fluffing up the truth with a sizeable load of bullshit, which she refers to as “the lawyer’s point of view”.

Then she assures us that whatever case we sit on, chances are, we’ll be fascinated! I look around, no one appears either fascinated or ready to become fascinated.

I went back to reading when they started showing pictures of quaint courthouses from all over NY, but perked up again when they started dissing voting, saying when you’re on a jury, you’re one of only a few, whereas when you vote, it doesn’t really matter because you’re one of so many. Jury Duty is trying to out street cred voting.

Finally, it ends.

50 people tear along the dotted lines: “everything except A, C and D is useless garbage”.

Turns out I don’t get 40 bucks because my job still pays me. Bummer.

By 1030 I was on my second Juror questionnaire because I hadn’t pressed hard enough the first time.

1050. nothing

1104. the first group are called in, one of whom’s last name is Tavares. I now have “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” stuck in my head.

1205. dismissed for lunch until 2. I go to Barnes & Noble and American Apparel. I watch as a man who has forsaken his trousers and shirt (although they are draped round his neck) for two jackets tied round his waist buy something from an electronics-holster street vendor. That big inflatable rat is outside a building across the street. The weather is beautiful.

200. Due to excessive air con in the room, I sit by the window and scowl at the MTA building across the street.

245. I am to go to seat four in room eight.

350. I am a Juror! I am lazily sworn in. We are to return the following day at 12 noon

405. Gowanus Yacht Club.

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