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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Jury Duty

or how I was imprisoned at the Hall of Justice.

I was finally called for jury duty last week. It's not a terrible fate--you can check the web or call in to see if your group is needed, and otherwise, you're just on call. I went in last Wednesday afternoon and our whole group was shuttled to a courtroom for jury selection. The Hall of Justice is a dreary building; it also houses the county jail, which is very elegant, but the courts reminded me of junior high.

The employees were cheerful, though. And very relaxed. They keep ridiculous hours: the court is only in session from 1:30 to 4:30, and they take a break in the middle of this. No wonder it takes months and months for cases to come forward. The employees were of every race: the lawyers were Asian, Jewish, and Latino, the bailiff was African-American, the clerk looked Irish. The court reporter was often irate that people spoke too softly to hear.

Anyway, on Wednesday, so many people asked to be excused for hardship that they sent the rest of us home to come back on Thursday at 1:30. Thursday the proceedings crept along. Most of the people in the room not only had excuses for why they were biased or had previous crimes committed against them or members of their family who worked in law enforcement that we still didn't get through jury selection. Worse, Friday was a holiday (only in the courts), so we all had to come back again today.

Each time it looked close, like they were ready to seat the 12 jurors plus two alternates, one of the lawyers would dismiss someone. Sometimes it was obvious why, sometimes it seemed random. I would have been happy to serve on a trial, but the process of selection was so slow! I got angry at the people who took too much time, making their excuses, and the lawyer, who pressed them, when it was obvious he would have to dismiss them anyway. Reminded me of school.

To make matters worse, you cannot read or drink water or sleep during the proceedings. Some of the biographies were interesting or painful: a big man with broad shoulders who described his mother being the victim of violence at the hands of his father; a woman who insisted that people who were arrested must be guilty of something; another who had been held up at knifepoint and been through many months of criminal proceedings.

I was in seat 15 today when they finally convened the jury, which means one more dismissal and they would have chosen me, despite my own excuses (mother's friend murdered by her husband years ago, tenants dispute with roommates years ago). Now I'm free, without having ever heard the excitement or knowing how it will be resolved.

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