by Jury Duty
am attending to my serious habit of cashews and dried papaya, chewing
absentmindedly and sifting through the day's mail. It's just the
usual collection of junk mail, bills, and about eighteen catalogues.
Most of it has very little impact on me except the Harry and David
Catalogue which is hard core porno to a nut and dried fruit addict
I see it. Oh no. Oh, yes. There is no mistaking the pink envelope
with bold black writing. JURY SUMMONS. The mere sight of
that thing makes my heart race and my breath erratic. Immediately
I think, "How can I get out of it?" A red box in bold
type warns that the courthouse does not permit any sharp pointed
objects, pen knives, or protection sprays. I am instructed to leave
all my various weapons at home. They don't mention my eyelash curler,
which in my hands is a dangerous weapon. The deceptively colored
amiable pink document also mentions that failure to respond will
result in a hearing and penalties including a fine of up to fifteen
hundred dollars. The summons makes me feel like I am the one on
In a sense, I am the one on trial. I am the defendant in the court
of my own conscience. The lightning speed of my reaction to avoid
civic duty is suspect and yet somehow I feel it's completely justified.
At times it really was justified by my contractual commitment as
a writer to the sometimes irrational demands of television production.
The show must go on. And on. And on.
now, I am not in production. I am essentially without a legitimate
excuse. This is the perfect time for me to serve. Apparently, the
Superior Court has better timing than Jack Benny.
I write in my calendar when and where I'm supposed to go, put the
summons into my desk drawer and for the moment, lull myself into
the belief that if you forget about it, it doesn't exist.
day before I am due to appear at the Criminal Court building I am
reminded that this jury duty thing does indeed exist and I have
to deal with it. I take out the summons and read all the possible
legitimate excuses. Being self-employed is no longer reason enough
for exemption. A signed affidavit is required from a physician for
a medical excuse. I don't know any physician well enough to ask
them to lie to the government for me. There is a section indicating
extreme financial burden. Truthfully, it wouldn't be an extreme
financial burden for me to serve on a short term jury. In our society,
for some inexplicable reason, sitcom writers make more money than
Okay, now I have no excuse. I will serve. And frankly, I do have
a real curiosity about what happens in the court system. So it's
Then, I look at the summons and realize I have to be downtown at
seven forty five the next morning. I hesitate, and then quickly
call the automated jury telephone system and touchtone my way into
postponing my service until next month. I remember that in a month's
time I will hopefully be working. No, I have to do it now, and only
now. I call the jury number again and opt to speak to a real human
being, who easily reestablishes my original service date for tomorrow.
I hang up and see the words "attach death certificate"
on the summons under legitimate excuses. You have to be dead to
get out of jury duty. I am alive, but that will be seriously in
question when I'm driving downtown at seven a.m. the next morning.
The eleventh floor assembly room is a large utilitarian room with
many rows of chairs facing a lectern. There is a front office with
a window where one of the civil employees acts as a kind of grocery
story checker who scans your juror's badge as if you are a bottle
of ketchup. I wonder if there will come a time when we will all
have a bar code stenciled somewhere on our bodies that will be scanned
for all of Big Brother's needs. (The book, not the show.)
in the only empty chair on the front row next to a very pale man
with long straggly gray hair who has a persistent dry cough and
wears sandals with thin black socks. On my other side sits a big
haired red-headed woman with a fondness for heavy floral perfume
and sour cream and onion potato chips for breakfast. I clip my juror
I.D. tag to my jean jacket and look at the number. 2193. My new
identity. I wait to hear the first panel of potential jurors being
called to a courtroom. And I wait. And wait. And wait. I read a
novel that I had started and never finished. I take a short but
deep nap, until I'm jolted back into consciousness by my next door
neighbor's dry cough. The P.A. system clicks on and a woman's monotone
voice tells us that she will be announcing the first panel of the
day. She apologizes in advance for mispronouncing names. She then
proceeds to massacre more ethnicities than Attila the Hun. Eventually,
I hear the monotone voice say "Mini Fried-non, #2193"
and I move as if in a large chain gang with the others to a courtroom
on another floor of the building.
the bailiff asks us to raise our right hands and swears us in, I
find myself suddenly in awe of this process. It instructs that this
disparate and motley group gather and objectively hear, and ultimately
pass judgment on, another human being in trouble. I look at the
young black man accused of the crime in the case and am struck with
that awesome task of deciding someone's fate. I wonder what he is
accused of. He looks at his potential jurors. He stands awkwardly
in his off white loafers and blue suit. His hair is combed in a
way that seems as if it had never held that particular shape before.
He looks down at the floor and so do I.
juror is asked if they had ever been a victim of the type of crime
that is on the docket or any type of crime at all. One by one, people
tell their dark tales in solemn, angry and/or resigned tones. An
elderly widower tells of being held up at gunpoint by a group of
teenagers in his pet store. His beloved deceased wife was ordered
to lie on the ground as they pistol whipped him and took the small
amount of cash from the register. I look at him talking in profile,
his anger giving way to profound loss. He works hard to hold back
tears. He isn't the only one.
the jurors are asked if they have ever been accused or convicted
of a crime. A middle aged Asian woman wearing a purple sweatshirt
with Janet Jackson's picture air brushed on it asks for a side bar.
She and the judge and lawyers move to the side and whisper amongst
themselves for a minute or two and she is excused. Everyone on that
jury panel is thinking, "What was that about?" We would
never know and it was just as well.
case involves spousal abuse and one of the potential jurors explains
to the court that she had been a victim of an abusive husband and
has counseled hundreds of abused women since that experience. Her
face tells the story without having to hear the details. She is
thanked and excused.
listening to all the mini-life stories and being questioned by both
lawyers and the judge, I, along with about half of the original
jurors, am thanked and excused by either the defense or the prosecutor.
I can't help but wonder why I didn't make the grade and find myself
feeling a little rejected. I can't really come up with anything
that I said that might have given them just cause to excuse me.
Is it because I am a white female Jewish Hollywood comedy writer
who they felt couldn't relate to a young black man from the 'hood?
How dare they! Didn't they know I had been a writer on In Living
Color? I knew the 18-24 year old black inner city male demographic.
Shouldn't that account for something?
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