Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Views from the Courtroom

    I was told it was an honor and extremely important task, participating in the judiciary process, a civic duty to be embraced.   I now know why a person is sent a summons demanding involvement.  I realize why they threaten jail time for skipping out.  If they truly wished happy volunteerism, they would at the least provide parking and maybe a few comfortable chairs.
    I am sitting here on what seems to be the oldest benches from the oldest courthouse in the country.  They were originally built to seat arrested people awaiting their trial.  They are hard, bolted to the floor too close to one another, and promote only the finest posture.  Around the perimeter of the room are several library cubicles for the people that need to continue their work with laptop or pen and pad,  and apparently the current judiciary feels twenty of these is just about the right amount to create enough hostility over seating arrangements without escalating into physical blows.  After five hours, the administrators have tried to quell the boredom with a videotape of some obscure 90's movie shown on a single 26" TV suspended in such a fashion to face only one side of the room and adding to the seating arrangement hostilities.  The room itself is sparse, could use a tad more than just paint (it probably hasn't seen refreshing of any sort since about '64), and somewhat dismal.  There are a couple of books to fight over, some outdated magazines, and, of course, a person could use their phone until the battery dies.
     The administrators are pleasant enough, going even so far as to apologize for the $5-a-day compensation not covering the $12 parking fee.  They are more than happy to help guide you through the process or answer any questions.  They are kind enough to inform everyone present that their compensation will be processed on "Payroll Friday" and mailed to us within 2-3 weeks.  The manager even pre-apologizes for butchering your name before you are given your assignment.
     I am currently participating in the new jury duty system.  It is a system in which, if you are lucky enough to escape the big room's boredom (the bullpen), and find your courtroom, the fun really begins.  The excitement builds when the county sheriff tries to politely shoehorn 100 people into 75 seats.  It grows when all cell phones need to be powered down or forfeited.  By the time the judge enters the room, the excitement is at a fever pitch.  The excuses for not participating in the judicial process fly at an alarming rate.  The classics come out first: disabilities (not being able hear being popular, especially while listening to music on one's phone), no comprendo coming in a close second (especially comical when answering all the questions asked in English), and financial hardship (really funny when proposed by the unemployed of the group saying it interferes with the job search).  Then the really creative ones start dropping: "I'm a radical", "I'm a militant", "All cops are honest", "All defendants are guilty and should get life", "My daughter's sister's cousin is pregnant and I have to watch their dog", and so on.  The final trick, for the hardcore, is the honesty approach: "You're the judge that sentenced my little brother last year" or "He looks like the guy that raped my sister."  The jury pool shrinks considerably and then the lawyers throw out all the most stern-looking or forthright-looking citizens.  Anyone with an honest job usually finds themselves back on the Fourth Floor.
    And so it is that I find myself returned to the "Bullpen" watching the clock creep along toward the final bell of my final day of jury duty for the next couple of years.  I have learned much.  I have learned that when faced with adversity (or just really dirty bathrooms) a person can hold his bladder for nearly 10 hours.  I have learned a new argument against the minority conviction rate (more minorities were excused from service purely on language and reading, or the claim that they could not communicate in the courtroom only outside of it, than anyone else).  This seemed truly odd to me, seeing as the demographic pool seemed to side away from predominantly white, the jury box did not, solely due to minority unwillingness to participate. I have seen enough to know exactly why trials take weeks and seem to drag forever, and jurors are able to write books during the process.  Lastly, I have found a place perhaps more horrifying than the DMV.

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