Thursday, July 1, 2010
And the Judge Said What?
There is no time in eternity and when you are denied time in a world that runs by the clock it seems an eternity.
I struggle again to read people's watches around me, but they are too small, too distance or arms are too much in motion.
When I last was called to jury duty in 1998 things had been different. Not just the lighter security when you entered, the whole court house was different. That was back in the old courthouse, the one built in 1917 when architecture demanded a Greecian look for such august buildings, so it was a long white structure with many marble collums and a grand stairway.
There had been no overwhelming crowd in the assembly room back at that time, seats were plentiful for everyone and it seemed less clausterphobia. A chipper judge had come in to greet us and explain the system that morning, he was causal and chatty. There was no one today but our DI. We were supposed to have an orientation, but that didn't happen because of the inclusion of the Capital Murder jury pool. It had been too crowded, too chaoic. Looking around I could see dark TV monitors mounted all about the room. I am sure no cheery judge would have appeared in person. This orientation was probably a taped version. Progress is an impersonal thing.
Back then, at ten o'clock that morning, a person entered the assembly room and announced all the cases had been settled, none of us would be needed and we could all go home, we had completed our civic duty.
I had a feeling history wasn't going to repeat itself for our Drill Sergeant was speaking again, calling names from a list. At long last the petit jury types were on the move.
The first group was called to the front and disappeared out the entryway.
I was called in the middle of the second group.
Our bailiff was Jessica, a young woman in an uniform similar to a cop's, a weapon belt about her trim waist, with her hair pulled back in a military bun, await us. She was fairly attractive. Let me put it this way, she would have looked good in a bathing suit. But she wasn't Miss Conjeaniality. She greeted us with a stone cold expression and a voice whose tone told you don't even think of giving me trouble.
We crossed paths with a couple other female bailiffs during this little jaunt, none of whom would have looked good in a bathing suit, but all of whom were smiling and cheery and warm. I suppose it is one of the ironies of this world that in order to be taken seriously if you are attractive you must ugly down your personality. Not that Jessica's personality was ugly, just very off-putting. She was like an icesickle on a sunny winter morning. She glistened with a frosty beauty. If you touched her you'd be frostbitten.
She escorted us down the corridor to the elevators and sent us up. We coudn't all go together, even though the lifts were freight elevator size. There must have been forty in the group.
Several floors up we were taken to a courtroom where we waited a few minutes in the hall gazing at a view of the city through huge glass panels that made up the one wall. Then one of those less-than-attractive-in-a-bathing-suit bailiffs popped out with a smile and invited us enter. Jessica was in there and directed us to sit on the benches to the rear of the room. We were too many even sat hip-to-hip for the three benches, so a few spilled over into the jury box.
I am in my seventieth year and this was my fist time in a courtroom. I guess that means I have been practicing good behavior all my life or I just haven't been caught yet. There is something imposing about it. It almost doesn't feel real and everything feels detached from normal reality. It took a moment to even notice we were not alone.
Everything was wood. At the front was a raised platform with the highest point being the Judge's desk. It had a computer on it. Behind it was mounted the Great Seal of the state. Below this desk was a long work area. At one end sat a thin man at another computer, persumedly the court stenographer. At the other was a young woman at yet another computer. She was the court clerk. Given her age and a certain awkwardness when she had to speak, I would guess she was a law student. Being clerk to this court was probably an honor.
In the middle of the room were two tables. People sat at these tables facing across them toward the Judge's stand so their backs were to us. Although they were not far, they somehow seemed distant. Something in the formation of this room, perhaps because we were higher than the floor where they sat, distorted these people and made them appear small.
Along the side wall was the jury box, fifteen padded gray, swival chairs.
Another woman was seated at the table to our front left. She had a two inch stack of papers before her, which she kept thumbing through. She was the state prosecutor. At the table on the right sat a man in a business suit (probably a public defender) and to his right another man in a white jumpsuit with DOC on the back. Behind these two sat two burly officers of the law.
We had been instructed to make no noise. we didn't.
Jessica went out a door next to the Judge's stand and we could hear her say, "They're ready, Your Honor." Apparently Your Honor wasn't ready. There was some sort of delay. Another bailiff appeared and went through the door. Jessica shut it behind her and we waited. Maybe the judge had to go to the rest room at the last minute. Maybe she needed an opinion on her hairstyle. No explanation was given, we just waited.
Finally, Jessica reappeared and announced the Honorable such-and-such and said "All rise." We stood and a blond haired woman in judicial robes entered, took a seat high above all the proceedings and sat down. We all sat down.
The Judge's name sounded familiar. later I realized she was pretty well-known. She had once been the state's Attorney General, had once ran for the U. S. Senate. She also had a reputation of being tough as nails, it had once been said of her she would put Santa claus in jail.
None of this showed, she seemed very nice and friendly when she spoke to us.
The clerk then announced court was in session on case number so-and-so, the State versus whozits on illegal use and possession of fire arms or something along that order. The Judge then told us this was a criminal trial expected to last two days.
"The Clerk will now ask you a serious of questions. These questions are designed to be answered yes or no. You should answer no to each question. If you must answer yes to any one or more of these questions, then we will speak to you further as to why you answered yes."
The Clerk stepped to a central podium and read the questions rapid fire from a paper, "Do you know the defendent? Do you know either of the lawyers? Two police officers will be testifying in this case, do you know either of these officers? The defendant is wearing a Department of Corrections jumpsuit, will that prejudice you against the defendant? Do you have a prejudice against people with freckles that own goldfish?" No she didn't ask that last one.
It was a long list. At the end the Judge asked if any one could answer yes to any question. Several hands went up.
The Judge now called the lawyers, the clerk and the stenographer to her bench. She flipped a switch and an annoying buzz of white noise filled our ears. Jessica led each hand raiser in turn up to the group gathered at the bench where they were questioned. The only non-movement was the defendant and the two officers behind him.
There was an easy dozen or more people who claimed dismissal because they had answered yes. About two-thirds of these were dismissed and left. The rest returned to the benches, all rather grim-faced. One woman returned with tears in her eyes.
After all had their moment in the spotlight the annoying noise was turned off to our relief.
Now the clerk stepped forward again and called out twelve names one by one. Jessica pointed out exactly were each person called should sit in the jury box. Once all were seated, the clerk handed Jessica a clipboard of papers. The bailiff in turn handed this to the defense attorney, who glanced at the jury box and flipped through the papers so clipped.
He handed the pack back to Jessica, looked at the Judge and said, "Mr. Blank is satisfied."
I am not certain if Mr. Blank was the lawyer's name or his client's. I am guessing Mr. blank was the client, but how the lawyer knew his client was satisfied is beyond me. He didn't show him the papers or consult with him. His client simply sat staring straight ahead the whole time. The defendant was the elephant in the room; he was more the invisible man.
The papers were then taken to the prosecutor. She flipped through a couple times, looked at the jury box and said one juror wasn't satisfactory to the state.
The Judge told this person she was dismissed and she left the room. She had been one of those who had previously answered yes and been questioned. I am sure she was happy to leave.
The Clerk again stepped to the podium and called another name. A person on the benches took the place in the jury box vacated by the dismissed woman and we went through the whole clipboard process again.
This time both Mr. Blank and the State were satisfied.
Now the Clerk did her thing once more and called two names, the alternates. Again the whole process was repeated.
This time the defense lawyer spent more time studying the list and he looked at the seated jury several times and back at us on the benches even more times. Obviously he was studying us on the back benches for a player more likely to be favorable to his client. Apparently none of us fit that bill and he finally said Mr. Blank was satisfied.
The State was also happy with the picked.
I had been noting the order of names called and it is my estimate if one more prospective juror had been dismissed, I would have made the team. In some ways I almost was wishing that happened. This was a new experience and might have been interesting.
But they had a complete panal now, we were no longer needed.
They Judge turned to us rejects and thanked us. "We are very appreciative that you were willing to serve."
Say what? Willing to serve, us, willing? What is this willing bit? We may have been willing to serve, but the truth is you don't have that choice, at least without dire circumstances. What did the summons say? if you failed to appear you faced jail time and a hefty fine. There was nothing about "come if you so will" anywhere on that notice. They don't call it a summons for nothing.
One advantage of having been called to the courtroom was we were told the time. As I left that room with the other losers (or is it winners) not empanaled for that trail I knew it was almost noon. But don't think the place was done with us. Oh, no, we may have been dismissed from this courtroom, but there were a lot of courtrooms in this building. We had to report back in at the assembly room and wait on the possibility our "willing" service was needed elsewhere.
Back in the big room, our DI, who frankly I was now thinking of more as our lovable den mother, called out some more names. I recognized they were all the people we left behind sitting in the jury box.
"Are any of those people in this room," she asked. I guess they wanted to be certain none of them had escaped, except some guy raised his hand.
"Were you in courtroom such-and-such just now?" she asked him.
"No," he answered.
"Well, why weren't you? You were supposed to go to courtroom such-and-such when I called your name earlier."
"You didn't call my name," he said.
"Oh, yes I did," she said. "I did indeed call your name. That is why I asked everyone to say here when I called their name. Your name was called and you should have been in courtroom such-and-such. You in big trouble now, hmm-hm!"
Lunchtime was to be from 1:00 to 2:00, so when our Den Mother - Mother Hen - DI next appeared I expected an announcment that lunch was upon us. I wondered if I wanted to leave the building for an hour. Did I really want to go through security again. I might not be so lucky the next time I slipped off my belt. My pants might fall for sure.
"Everybody who took a magazine from these rack, please put your magazine back at this time. We paid for those magazines and provide them to help you pass the time. What you may not know, we mark those magazines with infra-red ink. Don't you even think of not returning the magazine you borrowed, we will track you down. Now you look at your neighbor and see if they have a magazine and you tell them to put that magazine on the rack at this time."
People flocked forward replacing magazines.
"Now people, you all look around and pick up any trash you may have. You bring that trash up and put it in these recepticles provided. This is my house, you keep it clean for my next guests. There were 21 coutrooms scheduled today. At this time, all 21 cases have been fulfilled."
She looked at us and made an upward motion with her hands. Everyone applauded and cheered.
"I knew you would like that. I am about to dismiss you, but we have a Certicate of Appreciation for each of you for being here today. As I call your name come get your Certificate and then you may leave. Now I will be calling your names alphabetically, so if your name happen to be Wurtz, you know where you be."
The guy next to me called out, "I think we should start in backward order for a change."
I said to him, "I prefer me start in the middle.
When I picked up my Certificate I thanked the lady for her good humor.
I got out and it was nearly one by the big clock on the street. I'd probably be home by the time I would normally get off work, if I made it to my car. I still had a three mile walk ahead mostly up hill.
There was no sign of that rain we were supposed to get mid-day. The sun was bright and shiny. It was also hot. We were suppose to hardly reach eighty, it turned out in was actually 91. I had no hat. Fortunately at this time of day the sun was to my right and slightly behind me. Still there was much glare.
And it was hot.
I began my walk. I was tired from the stress of the day and from standing. I had not had anything at all to eat or drink either. I had forgone anything that might cause frequent bathroom visits.
And have I mentioned, it was hot.
I made my trek. It is amazing how much of the route had no shade. I was feeling a bit whoozy after the first couple miles. Just another mile, I told myself, just a few more blocks, just a few more steps.
My jury duty concerns were gone. I will probably never be called again. I am not eligible now for two years and in two years I will be pass the age where I have to serve. Of course, I still had to survive and get to my car and go home or none of that mattered.
It is parked just around the next corner, but man, it is hot.