Friday, September 28, 2012

Things I learned on jury duty

Fellow citizens, this week I did something we all dread and complain about: I served in the jury pool in my county's Superior Court. I did not get selected to a jury, but it was touch-and-go close for a while. The experience was not excruciating -- in fact, it was fairly interesting to be inside the justice system -- but I tell you what, I don't really want to do it too often.

I learned a some important things, however, from my few hours hanging around in The Pool. Take notes now because you won't be able to look at this on your smartphone when you're called to serve...nor will you be able to text or call or e-mail me. For a whole day. Because cell phones are not allowed. (I know, right? That got your attention...you're freaking out already.)

If I'd only worn this outfit,
I know I'd have been picked.
(1) The #1 most critical aspect of jury duty is parking. No joke. When you receive the summons, you'll notice the mention of parking and paying for parking at least twice on each side of the paper. Then when you call for instructions on the night before your service, you will hear at least four times that you are responsible for paying for parking AND you will hear at least twice that you should park under the big white sign that's spelled P-A-R-K. You think I'm kidding, but nope: They spell it out for you. Twice. P-A-R-K. It reminded me of Tom Cullen, my favorite character in The Stand: Yep, P-A-R-K, that spells jury!

    (Also, I got lost in the parking lot for 10 minutes after we were dismissed. I'm not sure if it's because (a) I was having some sort of low-blood sugar episode that made me extra dumb, (b) I was really so excited to be out of there that I didn't pay attention to where I got off the elevator, or (c) parking is really the most critical aspect of jury duty, and I did not take it seriously enough.)

(2) There's a smart ass (or two) in every crowd. When the court employee is giving instructions at the front of a room of 250 people, and she asks, "Does anyone have any other questions?" then you yell "Was that an interception or a touchdown in last night's game?" we are not amused. (Also, without fail someone asks a question about parking. See point 1 above.)

(3) Daytime television sucks. As do vending machines (see point 6 below). But the whole room rejoices when some over-enthusiastic ding-dong with a mullet and a too-tight t-shirt wins a matching set of dirt bikes on "The Price Is Right."

(4) There will never be a TV show centered on jury selection. The process is not riveting. In fact, it's tedious and boring and you'd better bring a book to read, even if you're called into a trial room for the weeding-out process. There is nothing but sitting and waiting, standing in line, shuffling from one place to a the next, then sitting and waiting some more. (However, as I write this, I'm thinking about the potential for a sitcom called "The Pool" that centers on the jury room. Oh, yeah, it's coming to me now!)

(5) Prepare for an emotional roller coaster...before you even get selected to a trial. You'll run the gamut of feelings on whether or not you want to serve on a jury: anxiety, patriotism, insecurity, annoyance, self-righteousness, gratitude that you're on the jury side and not on the defendant side of the room. We all believe our regular daytime routines are way more important than this jury stuff...until we realize that someone else's rights may at any minute be sitting in our hands, that many lives -- not just the defendant, but his family, friends, neighbors -- will be affected by the decisions that we make in that room. That's heavy. Some thoughts that went through my head, also were verbalized by many of those around me, while sitting in the courtroom awaiting the "random selection" of jurors' names: Oh, I hope I don't get picked, and I can't possibly miss another day of work tomorrow...please don't pick me!  Jeez, this is kind interesting...pick me, come on!. Oh man, I'm so bored and hungry...and why are there no clocks in here?! Please just let me go home! Come on, pick me, man...I really want to hear this case! Noooo, don't pick my name as an alternate, oh my God, please no, I want to get out of here.

(6) Bring snacks. Do not be fooled by the line on the summons that states "no food or drink is permitted in the courtrooms." You may -- and better -- bring something to nosh on and tuck it in your pocket or purse. There are crappy vending machines that may or may not give you a snack when you put your $1.50 in there. There are not many breaks, and even on a break, there's nowhere nearby to go to get food. And lunch happens whenever there's a break in the jury selection process for whatever trial is underway; see point 4 above. By the time my particular trial's jury was selected, it was well after 1:30. I sat on a wooden bench surrounded by a symphony of loudly growling bellies, and I really worried at one point that the man next to me would start gnawing on my arm. And man, oh man, when we got back to the jury room, people were grouchy!

(7) Excuses are like buttholes; everybody's got them. And it's unlikely that your excuse for not being able to report to jury duty will actually get you out of going to jury duty because they've probably heard them all. (Believe me, over the years I have tried many, including childcare, work responsibilities, illness, paid vacation plans...no luck.) So you should just go. Really. It's important, and you'll be proud of yourself after. And you may learn some stuff. Or at least you'll get to watch "The Price Is Right" with a whole bunch of people you'd never interact with otherwise and will probably never see again. (Also, Drew Carey looks way different than I remember him. He's almost handsome these days. But let's keep that between us, mm-kay?)

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