May 17, 2011

Ephemily Reports to Jury Duty, or, Hey Baby, is Your Jury Hung?

Two months ago, or there about, I got a "just for information purposes" questionnaire from the Federal Jury Commission.  Mmmm Hmmm.  Informational purposes only my left butt cheek.  So, I wasn't at all surprised when I was official summons showed up a few weeks later.

Fast forward a few weeks to the day when I'm supposed to report.  7:37 AM, I'm rolling in the door to the Jury Assembly room.  I pick up my form, verify all my information is correct, slap on a sticker with my juror number on it, and find a table.  There's a flat screen TV on in the corner with the national morning show blasting the latest celebrity gossip.  There are people around me making new friends, and talking about how much they don't want to be here.  Me?  I don't care about who Elin Woods is boffing, and apparently, nobody wants to sit anywhere near the glow-in-the-dark pale girl with two-tone hair dressed head to toe in black.  (What?  Like you expected me to play it completely straight.  They said business attire.  They didn't say it had to be warm and fuzzy.) 

So, I stick my nose in my nook, my headphones in my ears, and power through a few stories in "Side Jobs".  So help me, I WILL have every scrap written about Harry Dresden read before the next book comes out.  As the room fills up, people fill in, take chairs next to people they've not met, and in general, mingle.  It's a large room, and there are probably 60 of us in there eating the complimentary donuts and drinking the Federal coffee.  When the clerk finally calls all of our attention to the podium, I pull my headphones out of my ears and look up.  There are people standing against the walls.  There are people sitting on counters.  There are 4 other chairs at my table.  ...  And people tell me that my claims of being intimidating are all in my head. 

The older woman at the podium welcomes us and tells us how glad she is to have us all here today.  She goes over what you can expect if you've incurred charges like parking or lodging, how much to expect to be paid for your services, and what facilities we all have at our disposal.  Then, they call roll call where we're told that we need to confirm the number we've been given on our name tag since we hereby surrender our individuality to that number for the sake of secrecy.  The numbers are not in order and go from 1 -213(ish).  Once that's done, we're given a 5 minute potty break. 60 people head for two small restrooms for a battle of the bladders.   

When we come back from our constitutional, we're instructed we'll be lined up by a certain order and escorted to the courtroom upstairs.  80% of the room has been called by the time I start to care about the numbers being read off.  I'm under the impression that the farther back in the line you are, the longer you're going to spend in the courthouse.  I'm assuming that the judge will have to speak with all of us individually.  (I'm incorrect about this, as it would turn out.)  As my number is called, I gather my things and walk to the back of the room.  I can't help but hear my more sarcastic inner voice say "Mooooo." for my own amusement. 

As I'm standing there, looking at my fellow potentials, I take notice that I'm surrounded by a true cross section of the population.  There are the gentlemen in the well-worn clothes with callused hands who have spent their life doing honest work.  There are the blond sorority types with their hair tied up in ponytails.  There are the fresh fish graduates who are in between Student and Grown Up.  There are the Mothers, the Fathers, and the Professionals. Representing the Non-Conformists, we have me, and perhaps one other gentleman.  He's well dressed; a shirt and jacket, sporting long, curly hair, sitting in the corner, and doing his best to look delicious.  *cough*

We're filed out into the hall and our order in line is double checked to make sure we're arranged correctly for entering the courtroom.  About 10 of us head into the elevators at a time.  A few moments go by and we make the ride upstairs and are filed into the courtroom. 

At this point, we're told we're going to watch a video so we know what it means to be part of a Grand Jury.  Never mind that we've been given the pamphlet just an hour previous.  I realize that in journalism, the golden rule was "Tell em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and then tell 'em what you told 'em.  But really, let's get on with it, shall we? 

I will begrudgingly admit, the video wasn't so bad.  It was much better than all the STOP class ones I've had to sit through over the years.  Not that I'll be writing the academy, saying that the newly naturalized guy from scene 47 was robbed of his Oscar or anything, but it wasn't nauseatingly hokey. 

We get to the part where we're affirmed that we'll do our best to be truthful in answering the Judge's questions about our ability and eligibility to serve.  I was wrong that we'd visit with him individually.  Those who answered yes to any questions were asked to give their reasons out loud in front of those assembled.  I feel for the woman who had to disclose her panic disorder to a room full of strangers.

Interestingly, one of the questions the judge asked was if there were any government officials among those assembled.  A well dressed and mostly unassuming man behind me raised his hand.  When asked what position he held, he answered that he was the Mayor of York.  Good to see him doing his civic duty right along with the rest of us. 

I also learned something new.  Well, a few things actually.  If you're 70 or older, serving on a Grand Jury is optional.  Only one person asked to be excused, however.  When asked if anyone had ever been arrested, several people raised their hands.  Of those people, 80% of them had been charged with DUI.  I will be re-evaluating my need to be on the roads between midnight and 3:00 AM from now on...  Also, the Grand Jury term here in the state is 18 months long.  You report monthly on the third Monday of the month and may be required to spend up to the entire week working on your judicial duties.  Eighteen months.  That's a long time.  So much can change between now and then. 

In the end, after all of the questioning was done, I was left sitting behind the swinging doors.  And that was, apparently, the line in the sand.  Those assembled in front of it were due to serve and were sworn/affirmed in.  Those behind it were dismissed with a thank you and sent on their way.  Being that I parked in my regular spot for work, and it was barely noon, I headed to one of my regular places for lunch to get some take out so I can be the dutiful masochist and finish out my work day.

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