2 days ago
Monday, June 23, 2014
THE TRIAL OF JURY DUTY
I got up at 5:30 in order to get to BART (our mass transit system) in order to arrive by 8 am. Other than fumbling around like an old lady when I tried to figure out how to pay for parking, that part of the day went smoothly. I managed to find my way to the courthouse, make it through security and up to the jury assembly room with 10 minutes to spare.
There were about 80 of us gathered, we watched a video extolling the life affirming experience of serving on a jury and the crowd seemed to be pretty pumped up, even more so when the staff took over to explain about being paid $40. a day plus mileage for serving on the jury. As more details were discussed, we found out that a remarkable number of us had not read the materials we were sent and had no idea that it was a lengthy trial. The mood shifted to panic. Then we were offered a possible way out! We simply had to fill out a 50 page questionnaire for the judge and attorneys to review.
After being able to explain the hardship of being unpaid for 3 months and the fact that I would also be required to reimburse my employer the $1800 per month health insurance premium my paycheck wasn't covering, I felt confident that I didn't need to be too strategic on the rest of my answers. I was honest: "Would I consider the testimony of law enforcement officers more reliable than other testimony?" Absolutely not!! "What is my experience with local police officers?" I believe they target people of color and especially young men. There were questions on guns, gangs and tattoos - which gave some insight to the subject of the case. Also various questions about our family, hobbies and education.
When I told Tom about my answers, he was certain I would not be required to return on Monday for the next round in the process. Not so. I called in at 5 Sunday night to find I had to report at 8 on Monday morning. Everyone at work was freaking out, apparently things had not gone well with me out of the office on Friday...
So up early, back on BART and to the assembly room, then shuffled to another room where we sat for the better part of an hour, then herded down 2 flights of stairs to courtroom only to find it was the wrong room, back up two flights of stairs to the assembly room for another 30 minutes. The clerk came in and dismissed about 10 of us for unstated reasons. Another wait, then herded back downstairs to the correct courtroom where they spent 30 minutes lining us up in order and getting us seated.
The judge came in, made some remarks and began the process by speaking with about a dozen of the jury candidates about their financial hardship requests for dismissal - my request was not addressed. The judge and about 20 of the 30 attorneys in the room had a side bar to discuss who would be released. They let about 7 more go. then the judge spoke with people who had other hardship requests - one guy was an insomniac after 30 years on the graveyard shift and he sleeps all day, one woman's husband was being deployed and she was moving in with her family, a couple of unemployed people - that sort of thing. They side bared again and let 5 more go. I was getting nervous and a little ticked off.
By now it is noon. My stomach is growling so loudly my neighbors are commenting, we are not allowed to eat or drink (though the attorneys have cups of coffee and jugs of water.) Finally the judge asked if there was any reason anyone else had for not being able to sit on the jury - my hand went up - along with about 10 others. They went around the room, heard our explanations and had another side bar.
As I looked around the room I realized that there was 1 African American left, 2 white women in addition to me, 4 white men and the remaining pool was Asian. If they were making some decisions for the sake of diversity, this may not come out in my favor.
There were clearly going to be multiple defendants and were likely to be a multitude of "counts" against them. Sitting in the courtroom, seeing all the attorneys, all the files and paperwork stacked up everywhere took me back to my law school days - but didn't make me want to toss my life aside for 3 months and join them.
I was allowed to leave after that round leaving behind about 40 people from which 17 would be selected. I suspect that it would be a genuinely unique life experience to serve on a jury, and, as I wrote on my questionnaire - send for me next year after I stop working, and I am all in.