Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jury Duty, Part II

Jury service at the Inglewood Courthouse continues.

Still Day One
We eventually file over to the courtroom for jury selection. Though the courtroom is only one floor away, it’s a slow journey. The elevators are not prompt, and the stairwells are locked from the inside so defendants can’t make a break for it. Come to think of it, this may be the reason for the sad elevators, too. We wait outside the courtroom for a while. One of the seventy jurors is called away before we enter. Everyone wants to know why, and how they can make it happen for themselves.

The courtroom is about what you would expect. There is wood paneling, but not the nice kind you see on TV. It looks pretty cheap, possibly fake. Behind the judge the seal of California hangs on the wall. The seal sits in the bottom of a bigger circle, where the room apparently had a bigger seal that stained the wall with its outline before the smaller one replaced it. The seating in the audience area are lecture-hall seats, bolted to the floor in rows with seats that fold down.

So we all sit down, taking up almost two thirds of the audience seating. On the left there are some somber-faced black people, probably family of the defendant. Eighteen jurors are called up to the jury box.

The judge reiterates the unlikeliness of getting excused from the trial for work reasons, etc. If you’ve tried before but you’re here anyway, it’s because you do not qualify for financial hardship. To qualify for financial hardship, you pretty much have to be in a place where if you serve a day of jury duty, your kids will starve to death by tomorrow. A few minutes after the judge tells us all this for at least the third time of the day, a sour-faced Asian woman pipes up and asks to be excused. She’s a court reporter herself, and she’s been missing work and losing money each day she has to call in, since assignments are distributed each evening before the jury summons are announced. But will anyone starve to death if she’s here? No. Denied. Wasn’t she listening? As a court reporter, doesn’t she hear this spiel, you know, every day? Thank you for wasting everyone’s time.

After an hour and a half for lunch, the fun begins. The questioning of jurors. Have you or your family or friends ever been charged with a crime? Have you/family/friends been the victim of a crime? The stories that come out! “I was the victim of assault.” “Someone hit me with a brick.” “My friend was murdered.” “I was molested during a massage.” “I was arrested for lewd conduct in Hollywood.” This is not only good for jury selection, but would also, I think, be a great icebreaker at parties.

One of the prospective jurors is a writer. A young guy with hipster-geek glasses. What does he write? “Movies.” I immediately dislike him. What kind of movies does he write? Any police procedurals, crime dramas? Comedies. But he has written a Mafia comedy. What a hack, thinks the writer working on an assassin comedy (me). Is this trial going to be in your next script, ha-ha? “Maybe. You can never rule anything out.” This guy is enjoying the attention too much. I decide he’s a prick.

Now a twenty-minute recess. They take too many breaks around here. Don’t they realize we want to get through this as quickly as possible? We can sit around in a courtroom as well as we can sit around in the hallway. And enough already with all the explanations of how important a jury is. We get it. We’re here anyway. It doesn’t matter.

When we return, the defense and the prosecution get to question the jurors on matters they feel might bias them about the case at hand. It’s interesting how much laughter there is in a courtroom. It’s not so much about jokes, but the tone of voice the lawyers and judge will use with each other, as the judge says something as simple as how much time the defense has left. The little awkward moments, they get a chuckle out of not only the jurors, but the judge, the lawyers, even the defendant on trial for murder. Hey, it’s funny. This is something you don’t see in TV and movie courtrooms, where the solemnity of the courtroom can never be broken. The attorneys will crack little jokes on purpose to endear themselves to the jury. I start to imagine what Matt will be like in the courtroom.

The defendant is black. The defense asks the jury if anyone believes the case is gang-related. No one raises his or her hand. Then, tentatively, the writer’s hand goes up. “You don’t know any of the facts of this case. Why do you believe it’s gang-related?” asks the defense. The correct answer is, because you just planted that idea with your question. But the writer says, “Writer’s instinct, I guess. I think past things. I’m always imagining the possibilities, what people are like.” What a prick. The prosecutor questions him too: “Who do you think would play me?” Ha ha ha. And, “Do you think you could turn off your writer’s instinct and decide this case fairly, based on the evidence?” The writer says yeah, he thinks he could, but in a tone of voice meant to imply, I’ll try, but I am awfully fucking creative, so I can’t promise anything.

NEXT: Jury selection continues!

1 comment:

lydia said...

I don't like him either, Kenny.