September 21, 2006

A Brief Brush With The Law

I started Jury Duty today. Well, I suppose that’s not really the complete truth – it’s more like I started the laborious process of waiting to actually being selected for a jury. The day one starts Jury Duty isn’t necessarily the day one starts Jury Duty, if you know what I mean. Starting Jury Duty really means sitting around and doing a whole lot of waiting. Ah, the joys and efficiencies of the American Judicial system.

Until recently, the system in the California courts was that you would show up to Jury Duty and be corralled into a fairly large, aesthetically mind-numbing room with all the rest of the potential jurors. There were lines of incredibly uncomfortable plastic chairs that seemed to be rejects from some high school special education class. For entertainment, there were usually a series of jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces and rows of Fabio-laden, dramatically tattered novellas by such literary giants as Danielle Steel and LaVyrle Spencer. Mostly, though, you found your self staring mindlessly into space as you played tiddlee-winks from 8am to 5pm and waited to see if, miraculously, your name was called for potential jury duty.

It was required that one spent 10 days in this societal stinkpit of a judicial holding cell if you never got to see actual jury time. Day after day, for two full weeks, you’d be forced to numb your mind to the inefficient insanity as you constantly shifted your ass cheeks on the plastic buckets and silently cursed yourself for once again forgetting to lube up with Chamois But’r before you left home. I suppose they wanted to let potential jurors know what it was like to be imprisoned, without the shivs, white supremacists and orange jumpsuits, of course. The lucky ones got selected for trial.

I suppose I could be considered a lucky one. You see, I was on Jury duty once before – back in 2001 – and, truth be told, I loved it.

I hadn’t sat down in the butt-breaking plastic chair for nary ten minutes when the lady on the intercom starting calling out random names for a spot as potential jurors. Lo and behold, I heard my name called. I quickly slammed shut my copy of Sports Illustrated and, with my fellow potential jurors in tow, shuffled off to our assigned courtroom, all bright-eyed and judiciously naïve. I knew not where I was going nor what lied before me, but I was damn glad to be out of that room and wasn’t eager to go back if this jury selection process didn’t work out in my favor.

After we got to the courtroom and heard our directions, the clerk began by selecting twelve of us at a time for questioning – or voir dire, as I believe they called it in My Cousin Vinny. As the magnificent twelve were put in the jury box, the lawyers proceeded to try and weed us out through their highly insightful line of questioning with such mind twisters as “what do you do for a living?” and “do you hate cops?”

As it turns out, I was in the first group of twelve and found myself sitting in the seat for Juror #7 as the voir dire process began. I don’t remember the questions they asked me, but I know it was not much beyond something like “Does your grandmother make good chicken soup?” Lo and behold, in what I can only deduce was a case of racial profiling, both attorneys apparently thought that I might be a good juror for this case and so for the next two weeks I affectionately became known as Juror Number Seven, a name I tried unsuccessfully to keep far beyond my esteemed judicial career.

The chairs in the jury box were quite comfortable. So much so that here I am, five years later, and I still remember the feeling of sinking my wiry ass into the cushy comfort of the Juror Number Seven chair every morning. Needless to say, my buttock and I were damn happy to have been selected for jury. Better to waste the ten days in a courtroom than sitting around the Jury waiting pen with a bunch of other misfits, trying our best to stave off boredom like we were all spending our first time in after-school detention.

The trial started and it couldn’t really have gotten any better had Scott Turow scripted the damn thing. I found myself smack dab in the middle of a gang-related love triangle homicide, complete with crooked cops, convicted felons skipping the country and really mean very dangerous people with tattoos I couldn’t quite make out from my Juror Number Seven vantage point, who were threatening to kill witnesses if they testified against the homicidal gang lover. I can’t help but smile just thinking about it.

Throughout the process, I was constantly in awe. I was amazed at the insensitivity and complete disregard some people feel for humanity and I was appalled with our judicial system. I was in shock with the ineptitude of the public defender and in greater shock with the stupidity of a few fellow jurors, who shall remain numberless. It was wonderful. I felt like I was an extra on Law & Order: Special Moron Unit. Had there been such thing as a blog back then, I would’ve typed an epic novel. I couldn’t wait to get downtown everyday and soak myself into this lovelorn drama gone gangsta.

So you can imagine my current excitement, what with the opportunity to do my civic duty once again. This time, however, they’ve changed the rules. No longer do we have to spend a minimum of ten days doing our civil service. Now all potential jurors have to do is to show up for just one day at the criminal courts building. If you get selected for a jury on that one day, you’re in for the long haul. If you don’t get selected, you’re scott free, never to have to show your face in the criminal courts building until you’re again called for jury duty.

Or unless you kill someone.
Whichever comes first.

I didn’t get called for a jury this time around. I’m kind of sad about that in a funny way. I guess I really miss those juror’s chairs more than I thought.


Laura W said...

Very funny article. I'm crying it's so funny. You just pinpointed a real benefit of living in L.A. - being able to sit as a juror at trials more colorful and sordid that you'd see on Law & Order.
I'm glad you're still doing your blog.
- Laura (your sister).