Monday, June 20, 2005

Jury Duty, Part IV

In my last Jury Duty post, I ended with "Come back Monday." I actually meant that to represent the gist of what the judge told us; a weekend elapsed between Day Two and Day Three. Apparently that was misread, and due to my own sloppy writing, I accidentally promised you the next segment by Monday. I had actually intended to write it on Saturday, but once you expected it on Monday, who was I to disappoint you?

This post is going up a bit late because my wireless Internet isn't working right now. Actually, mine hasn't worked in ages because our router sucks. I've been jacking my neighbor's signal for longer than I can remember. But my neighbor's isn't working tonight either, so I'm posting from Stephanie's computer. I only include this information so Ryan's comment will still make sense. Now, on with the show.

Day Three
So, the way jury selection goes is this: First, the judge asks a bunch of general questions about your ability to serve on a jury. They’re pretty much formalities, and no one is expected to answer no to them. Then there are the general questions to everyone regarding whether they’ve been involved with a violent crime (this is probably case-specific). Then everyone goes individually and answer’s questions about their occupation and whether they’ve been the victim of any other (nonviolent) crimes. Each time a new round of jurors comes up to fill the empty seats, the judge says, “You’ve heard the questions we’ve asked before. Would any of your answers be demonstratively different from what people have answered before?” He’s referring here not to the personal questions, which we’ll all be asked again, but the very first general questions. By now we don’t even remember what those questions were, but we’re all pretty sure we wouldn’t have a problem with them.

Except the woman next to me, a little middle-aged-going-on-old woman, thinks that this means it’s time to unload her story about her son who got assaulted or something in Guam, and then had to settle things via a lawsuit. The judge goes along with it without correcting her, because he’d might as well get through her story seeing as she’s already started talking. The follow-up questions have to do with whether you felt treated fairly by law enforcement and the justice system. The woman has nothing but praise for the Guam police, who were very helpful once the lawsuit got going. She’s so enthusiastic, she keeps talking about the Guam police and the Guam lawsuit long after she’s communicated the relevant information.

“You realize this case has nothing to do with the Guam police,” the judge says, cracking a smile. He points to the defendant, who is chuckling again, along with the rest of the courtroom. “He’s not the one who assaulted your son in Guam.” Yes, she understands that.

She suddenly volunteers that she has served on a jury before. “How long ago was that?” asks the judge.

“Yes, we had a verdict,” she replies nonsensically. More laughing. She doesn’t seem to realize why she’s a source of laughter, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. The judge eventually coaxes out the right answer, and is about to move on when—

Guam Lady has another question. “Will this be done by July twentieth?” she asks of the case, which, three days ago, we were told was likely to take six days. You see, on July 20th, she’s already scheduled a trip to Guam—

Yes, yes. Don’t worry, the judge assures her. We will definitely be done by July 20th. In fact, we ought to be done by June 20th. You won’t have any trouble with your trip to Guam.

They move on to questioning the rest of the jurors. I reveal that I am a writer. What kind? Yes, a screenwriter and freelance comedy writer. Any police procedurals, crime dramas. No. Well, I do have police characters, anyway. Is this trial going to make it into my next script? Well, I don’t plan to base a script on it. Naturally, I may draw on the general experience at some point, but I don’t intend to write specifically about this case. I don’t mention my intent to write up a detailed account of my jury service for my blog. For the question of whether I have any friends or relatives in law enforcement, I mention that my uncle (on my mother's side, specifically, and dead, though I don't say so) used to work for the ____ [government entity deleted for reasons of national security]. I could also mention that I barely spoke to him, and he certainly never discussed his work, but I don’t.

The defense questions me on the ____ point. “You said your father worked for the ____.” My uncle. “Right. Did you see that movie, Meet the Fockers?" No, but I saw the first one. “Is your father anything like that?” Uncle, corrects one of the other jurors, under his breath.

“No,” I reply. “Nor is my uncle.”

The defense attorney nods. Right, right, your uncle. “Now, given that your father worked in law enforcement, do you think you will be able to put that aside and judge this case fairly?” Yeesh. Uncle! How many times do I have to—but never mind.

“Yes,” I reply, trying to look him in the eye. My contact lenses are dry and I’m looking up at him and the fluorescent lights behind him cast a strong glare. Trying to make eye contact, I’m suddenly having trouble keeping my eyes open. They’re getting a little teary. I hope he doesn’t read this as a sign I’m lying.

He’s done with me and moves on to other jurors. I start thinking about my answers. Actually, maybe my uncle was kind of like Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. If anything, he was probably more intense. I should have said so. Ultimately De Niro is just a big gruff teddy bear in that movie.

As the questioning order arrives back at Guam Lady, the judge tries to segue past her with a “And we’ve already heard from you—“ but she doesn’t quite hear him and pipes up again asking what he said, and he repeats that they’ve heard from her already, and she replies, agreeing that indeed they have, and there is laughter again at this woman who can’t stop talking.

We take a recess, because someone in the next courtroom is crying and wailing so loudly that it’s become a distraction.

Out in the hall, I talk to another juror. It’s a woman who had sat next to me on Day Two and expressed curiosity in my book, Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. During a sidebar I had let her read the book jacket flap and selected a representative excerpt, which she enjoyed. She discusses how she beat a hidden-camera traffic ticket with the help of an attorney who had helped banish all traffic cameras from San Diego County.

I talk about how I could have gotten dismissed if I brought up my (and Stephanie’s) long battle against the unfair parking ticket, and how the parking enforcement cop flat-out lied to cover his ass at our hearing, and how that might prejudice me against police testimony. But they never specifically asked about that anyway, and it would still come down to the same question: “Do you think you can put that aside and judge fairly?” And my answer would still honestly be, “Yes.” So there was no point in going out of my way to bring it up, especially since I’m not seeking to get purposely dismissed. If they choose me, so be it. Sure, I’ve got things to do, but my schedule is about as clear as it’s ever likely to be, and the case is at least interesting and important.

Back in court, the prosecutor calls on me. “Juror number eight, the writer,” he says, for by now I am sitting in that seat, “Who do you think would play me?” Good grief, did he forget he used that one already? Now that we know he says this to every writer, the joke is not only not funny, it’s not spontaneous either. Negative charisma points for that one.

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I answer. And he moves on. That was his only question. He called on me just to re-use that joke? Surely I must be missing something.

Now it’s time for the next round of dismissals. The prosecutor starts. “The people ask that the court thank and dismiss Juror number eight.”

Whaa?? I’m dismissed? Not only dismissed, but the first one? What did I do? Other jurors have family and friends who have been shot or assaulted. The Guam Lady can’t even answer a question. One guy dated a cop and still goes out to drinks with cops. And I’m first? I try to calm myself. Remember, the video said not to take it personally.

It can’t be my ____ connection because that ought to bother the defense, not the prosecution. What gives? I make a what-the-hell face at my ticket-fighting friend on my way out.

The Cop Dater is next out and he’s excited to be free. He speculates that they just don’t like writers. Could be. I assumed the other writer was dismissed for being a prick, but perhaps it was his vocation, after all.

Or maybe I wasn’t dismissed for anything that I said. Maybe the prosecutor noticed how I was constantly writing in my notepad. Maybe they don't like people to take notes.

On the drive home, there’s an ad on the radio for some kind of auto-related product. A “lawyer” character is talking to his client, a car engine, promising the case is as good as won. “You get me one engine on that jury…” Here he pauses to buzz his receptionist: “Do engines serve jury duty?”


lyan! said...

Ah.. the memories.. hijacking wireless signals.. gotta love it.

Sarah said...

Thanks for writing about this, Kenny.

Simon said...

This is quite useful to me as I just received a Jury summons for LA Superior Court.

Quite frustrating as I live in Berkeley, but oh well, I better get it delayed till Christmas break because they've basically eliminated all the old full-time student excuses.