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 democracy7-11s, SuperSize Fries
and pizza delivery, to name the most important. And I will not hesitate
to fight and die for these libertieswhen 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, sohey 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 Courta 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 summonedmuch to my surprise. After
about hour 3, I had forgotten jury duty could actually involve more
than just sitting in a room for 8 hoursthat 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
judgmenton anyone. As far as I'm concerned, that's really
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
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