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The Urban Juror (Part 2)

Mar 14, 2013

(Read Part 1 here)

The court room was not at all how I’d imagined it. I wanted marble floors and vaulted ceilings, so the acoustics would be dramatic and reverberating. 

(This is really what I was imagining.)

I expected to see some guy in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs being led into the room by a handsome policeman. I thought the judge would be angry, slamming his gavel down at the hint of anarchy.

(Yes that's the Ghostbusters judge -- it was a very influential movie on me, okay?)

And the lawyers would be stern and in expensive power suits, intimidating us into being on their side.

Instead, the court room was more like “Judge Judy” but without the grand entrances. Everything was covered in red and gray or tan carpet – I mean, even the walls. The defendants were in button downs and slacks, no shackles. The judge was like a dear old grandfather, and the lawyers looked like characters from "The Office." (One woman's suit was three pieces -- jacket, top, and wide leg pants --, and all three were the same taupe pinstripe material. Definitely not what you would see on "Law & Order.")  Offensive outfit aside, everyone was so pleasant! Even so, I planned out where I would hide and my escape route in the event of someone running into the court room with a gun, as I’d read about someone doing in Denver that morning, or -- let's be honest -- if Slimer suddenly appeared and caused a ruckus.

Everyone introduced themselves, and then each lawyer read us a list of witnesses, including their nicknames.  Oh how I wish I could remember them all. These witnesses had the most generic names, like Bob Smith and John Thomas, and their nicknames were things like T-Dog, Peanut, and Lil' White Boy. How they kept straight faces amazed me. Next, the judge told us about the case and let us know it would take four weeks.

My heart dropped. How in the world can they ask people to give four weeks of their life?! Any thoughts I’d had about some unfulfilled desire for civic duty escaped me after he told us the length of the trial. Even my imagination of what court room antics may lie ahead couldn’t convince me that I wanted to sit on this jury.

The judge began reading a list of questions and asked us to note which ones we might need to talk through with him. This would begin the voire dire process. I had three notes:

1. I’m a certified paralegal. Yes, when the Internet freaked out the print media industry back in 2006, just around the time I was entering the workforce, I had to figure out a different career all the sudden, so I got a paralegal certificate. I figured they didn’t want people who knew too much about the law, so I was glad to finally be putting that certificate to use.

2.  I have a friend who works for the FBI. Obviously, I can't name this person, but the judge asked if we knew anyone in law enforcement, and FBI totally counts. Things were looking up for me!

3. I have a conflict. Jamie is getting married in March in San Diego, and The Boyfriend is going with me and we’re going to rent a car and drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego and visit several friends along the way. Doesn’t that sound amazing?!

When he finished, the judge told us we are all important and he wants to talk through any issues we might have.

What a caring man! I thought.

Then he told us how important our duty is, and although four weeks may seem like a long time, we must all serve at some time. Our bosses would understand, and the law demanded them to. Personal conflicts may be important, but this may be more so. He also emphasized that if we were mentally incapacitated or couldn’t, for some medical reason, handle the trial, we should let him know. 

My emotions became very complicated as the feeling sorry for myself shifted between not fulfilling my civic duty and missing Jamie’s wedding, not to mention all the evenings I’d have to give up to catch up on work, then swinging over to pretentious pride that I would be the best, most un-biased person they could put on the jury.

Hours passed as the judge called each person to the front to talk with him and the lawyers. He played white noise while they talked so no one but those up front could hear. Some people he let go, but most he asked to stay. There are only 12 seats on a jury, but the judge was obviously keeping his options open. I made my way through Marie Claire, half of Cosmo, and the foreward to “The Princess Bride.” (I always read the foreward, you never know what little tidbit you’ll find out before you dive into the book. This one was particularly interesting.) Finally, around 3 p.m., it was my turn.

I handed my notes to the judge and smiled sweetly.

“You’re a paralegal?” he asked, eyebrows raised. I couldn’t read the lawyers’ faces, so I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. “Good for you!” he continued. I shrugged my shoulders and nodded. “Where do you practice?”

“Oh, I don’t. I’m in PR.”

“NPR, you say? Impressive!”

“No no, I’m in PR. Public Relations.”

The judge’s smile disappeared. “Oh.”

What is that supposed to mean?!

“Okay,” he moved on. “You know someone in the FBI?”

“Yes,” I said, standing up straighter. If the paralegal thing wouldn’t get me out of it, this surely would.

“And what does this person do for the FBI?” he asked.

I slumped. “Counter-terrorism.” That wasn’t going to affect this case at all.

“And your conflict, what is that about?” he asked. It was my last shot. For a moment I thought about embellishing the story to ensure my swift exit, but I’m a terrible liar and I knew I’d start laughing if I strayed too far from the truth. I took a deep breath…

“I have a wedding to go to in March,” I said, short and sweet.

“Oh how nice. Whose?”

“My friend’s.”

“Are you in it?”

CURSES. The one time I’m not a bridesmaid. “No…”

“Okay, well, I don’t see why that would be a problem, but we will consider it,” he said. I realized this judge wasn’t as dear as I’d originally thought.

And then, a glimmer of hope – one of the lawyers, her face looking very concerned, said to the judge, “Sir, she will miss the wedding.”

The judge looked at me thoughtfully, and this went through my head (up to the 25 second mark):

Alas, the white noise was on, so no one could hear and therefore cry out for my sake, which I'm sure they would have otherwise.

“Where is the wedding?” the Judge Dread asked.

“San Diego?” I didn’t know what he was looking for at that point.

“Well, we’ll take it into consideration. You may have a seat.”

Blerg! Why can't I be more like Liz Lemon?!

(I did briefly consider doing something like this, but it would have taken a level of skillz that I just don't have. And anyway, it only worked for her in Chicago. I'm pretty sure DC would be closer akin to Liz's New York experience.)

I sat down and waited another hour or so as the people next to me were questioned. Finally, the Judge Dread turned off the white noise.

“This is taking much longer than we’d hoped. Please report back tomorrow so we can continue.”

As I walked to the Metro, I turned my phone back on and notices started coming through, including a Facebook one. One of my lawyer friends had posted on my wall: “Don’t try to get out of jury duty, we need smart people like you!”

UuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuughUH. I was so torn.

To be continued...

1 comment:

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