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By Alan Olifson

My initial reaction was, "How the hell can I weasel out of this?" Of course, that's my initial reaction to most social obligations not involving an open bar. In this case, though, I think my weaselness was justified: I was summoned to jury duty.

You see, like many Americans, I cherish the rights and privileges afforded me by this great democracy—7-11s, SuperSize Fries and pizza delivery, to name the most important. And I will not hesitate to fight and die for these liberties—when I can do so rhetorically, from behind my computer, wearing reindeer pajama bottoms. But, given the opportunity to actively serve democracy in a real and time consuming way, well, you know, I'd love to, but I've got a, um, thing with the guy down at the, uh, place, so—hey look over there.

Unfortunately, getting out of jury duty is no longer as simple as claiming you have a lasagna in the oven. So, on a beautiful Thursday morning, I found myself in downtown Los Angeles, which, as a native of L.A., has happened only about four other times. After twenty minutes of being lost in my hometown, I dutifully reported to the L.A. District Court—a high-water mark in the form-follows-function school of architecture. From the moment you see the slab of Soviet-era concrete riddled with tiny slit windows rising up over the 10 Freeway, the L.A. District Court makes it very clear no fun will be happening within a five mile radius. Which I guess is appropriate. Justice is not fun business. Contrary to popular belief, Lady Liberty isn't blindfolded so she can do tequila shooters.

No, Justice is serious stuff, to be delivered cold and swift. Which made it all the more odd when jury duty began like my first job at K-Mart: with a video orientation. Nothing screams "What you are about to do sucks," louder than a slick video explaining why, in fact, what you are about to do does not suck.

After the video, I began what is the cornerstone of jury service: sitting. Sitting and waiting. This went on for seven hours, pushing the limits of even my exceedingly high tolerance for inactivity. Then, at 3:45 p.m., I was summoned—much to my surprise. After about hour 3, I had forgotten jury duty could actually involve more than just sitting in a room for 8 hours—that it could involve getting put on an actual jury.

Thirty of us were ordered to leave the cushy confines of the Jury Room and report for active duty in Division 75. Entering the courtroom, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mahogany, nature's most somber wood. Court would be a different experience if everything was made from balsa, I'll tell you that. For starters, there'd probably be a lot more little cocktail weenies.

The bailiff herded us into the audience section where we were introduced to one honorable Judge Goldberg -- a man way too close to his 30s for me to feel comfortable with my station in life. As young Goldberg ran down a list of courtroom instructions, my mind uncontrollably rattled off lines from Law & Order episodes. I think I had made it up to the season where Benjamin Bratt replaced Chris Noth when a charge was finally leveled: DUI. Sweet. No prosecution lawyer in his right mind would want me on DUI jury. Hell, I almost got a DUI on the way over here.

Now, in theory, the jury selection process is simple enough: the judge and each lawyer question potential jurors to determine if any are biased or otherwise unable to render a just verdict.

In practice, this process works about as quickly as plate tectonics.

Goldberg got the ball rolling with the deceptively simple "Occupation?"

Seeing this more as an essay question, Potential Juror #5 jumped in, "I mean, mostly I write, I'm also doing some PA work, big budget stuff, no independents, and, um, sometimes I work at Buzz Coffee, just, well you know, to help out with the cash flow, but probably not for much longer. I've got my script out to a couple good agencies right now, and I've gotten some good feedback. I really see myself writing and directing…"

Now, granted, this is L.A., so I wasn't surprised to hear people playing, "justify your existence" when asked what they do. But as the questions moved on, the elaborations just got worse.

"Have you had any prior jury experience?" Ahhh, finally a "yes" or "no" question. The first, "yes" came from a middle-aged, middle-class woman, non-descript to the point of it being a defining feature.

"And did this experience cause you to form any opinions about juries, or the legal system in general?" Goldberg added. Damn you, Goldberg. He might as well have said, "Please elaborate until it gets unbearably awkward for everyone in the room." Who the hell wants to admit that any experience hasn't caused them to form some kind of opinion about something?

"Well, yes," she searched, "um, let's see. Well, it was certainly more trying than I had expected. And, um, well, I realized that my religious convictions wouldn't allow me to pass judgment—on anyone. As far as I'm concerned, that's really God's decision."

It was four-thirty, we were on the second question and it became painfully clear why jury selection is never prominently featured on Law & Order. Why the Lifetime network hasn't jumped on it, though, I am not sure.

The deceptively innocuous question, "Do you think California's DUI laws are too harsh, too lenient, or just right?" somehow prompted Juror #6 to reveal her father was an emotionally distant and abusive alcoholic. Later Juror #1 confessed his friends had been brutally beaten by the police, while Juror #17 exposed her utter contempt for the opinions of others.

This went on for two days. We may never get to trial, but damn it, we'd at least get to the bottom of Juror #3's intimacy issues.

The prosecutor didn't help speed the process along. She was a somewhat shrill woman who held her hands like a nervous T-Rex, and had a horrible habit of taking the absolute longest route between the start of her sentence and her actual point. "A lot of people think reasonable doubt is this impossible standard, that it's like completing a marathon or climbing Mt. Everest. That I have to prove beyond all possible doubt. Is that what you think? That reasonable doubt is beyond all possible doubt?"

Unbelievably, through the whole two day selection process, not only did no one have an emotional breakthrough, but three people with law degrees somehow came to the conclusion that I was fit to judge a DUI case. On the late afternoon of day two, I was sworn in as Juror #7.

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