One Angry Boy

13 08 2010

I counted down to this day with anxious excitement.  The idea of sitting on a jury has been a desired goal of mine for many years.  It started when I watched “12 Angry Men” many years ago, when I had a Henry Fonda appreciation that initially stemmed from “Grapes of Wrath”, I suppose.  I remember still, watching how he inspired the fellow jurors to acknowledge their significance and the significance of their decision and I longed to be a part of that process.  And so, when I finally received a summons for jury duty, I couldn’t have been more excited.

I called the number the night before, hoping in earnest that I wouldn’t hear the words that would say my presence was not necessary and I thankfully, heard no such thing.  In fact, the recording stated that all 754 summoned persons must be at the courthouse by 8 am.

I awoke at 4:30 am and sat pensively in thought for near on an hour, knowing what obligations I would be fulfilling this day and also how significant my duty was to the fairness of this nation.  My husband thinks I’ve lost my mind, as does most everyone I tell.  Jury duty is supposed to be that obligatory evil.  But it is what sets us apart from other countries.  It is what makes us great as a nation.  It is a privilege.  And for the closeted power hungry control freak inside, it is akin to a gavel in the hand.

There is a separate parking lot for us chosen ones and it was relatively easy to find.  The gatehouse guard didn’t even acknowledge my summons as he motioned me to a selected stall, perfect for little clown cars like I am driving.  My husband had told me that there would be a shuttle to take me from the lot to the courthouse, but there was no such thing.  I choked down a last cigarette and began ambling the few blocks to the courthouse.  It was comical to me how all of the other prospective jurors like myself somehow knew where to go.  We paced ourselves at a distance of six feet or so, each just walking in a slow steady pace as though marching off to our deaths.  I, however, was mentally skipping along.  And if my body would have permitted me to do as such, it would not have been purely mental.

Outside the courthouse there were charlatans and such, something I had not anticipated.  I was quickly able to discern the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christians of the bunch, but there was another group that I could only say seemed like a cross between hippies and moonies.  They were going to pray for my soul and my mind to be at peace.  There was an older man who must have sensed because of my cane I wouldn’t be able to easily escape him, as he hobbled over to me double time and fell in step beside me to begin telling me how I should vote for a change – a change of president.  I thought about pausing to let him know he is a few years too early, but I just gave him the uh huh uh huh head bob and stared straight ahead.

The line was long and when I finally made it to the end I contemplated a quick smoke.  But I had intentionally left my smokes in the car.  I did not want to do anything that could in any way impede my being selected.  So instead I studied my competition.  Some, obviously, had not heeded the warning on the summons or on the voice recording, as they had arrived in shorts, wife beaters, flip flops and some looked like they had not even changed from the prior evening.  I was able to pick out the attorneys and professionals fairly quickly.  The women all wore heels that resembled stilts and pantsuits that were a size too small.  The men had the mandatory comb over and suits that shimmered from the overuse of starch.  They didn’t acknowledge us, they would simply cut in front of us without even a pardon me or nod.

We were a hodgepodge of folk.

They finally began shuffling us inside around a quarter til and the guards scanning pocketbooks and such were exceptionally kind to me.  They assisted me over to a special area and one held onto me while another disassembled my cane.  When he brought it back, he worked to adjust it back to the right height.  That impressed me.  Then another escorted me over to an elevator while the others were pointed towards the escalator.

In the holding room there were well over 100 people and it seemed each had chosen to space themselves at least one seat away from the next closest person.  Silly people.  I picked a row and began pushing my way to a vacant seat.  I sat between a young woman and an older man.  The young woman was wearing a one piece dress that was very comely, but when she sat down the skirt exposed her upper thighs.  She was a bit of a nervous sort, twitching and tapping her foot on and on.  She was wearing high heels that were too small for her tiny feet, which was odd because her feet were about as long as my hand and yet her skin was swollen and red.  The older man to my left made exasperated sighs every few minutes, as though the huffs would change his situations.

There was a man behind me who knew the system.  He had been called for jury duty three times in the last five years and twice before that in Broward County.  Yes, they had told jurors 0 through 754 to show up, but they didn’t actually mail out 754 summons.  We would sit here and as the judges arrived they would tell the people up front how many prospective jurors they wanted for their case and the folks up front would randomly select us to go down.  In Broward County it was better, they would choose by seats and rows, so you could just sit in a cluster of people in the front and know you would be called.  Here though, it wouldn’t matter where you sat.  I don’t really know who he was talking to, I never heard anyone respond to him, but he explained the process over and over like a broken record so many times that when he finally silenced himself I had to turn around to make sure he hadn’t left.

At 8:15 they began checking us in.  They called up jurors 0 through 155 and only about twenty people stepped forward.  See, said the know it all behind me to no one in particular.  156 through 200 though seemed to be a good thirty or so people.  201 through 245 was also a good thirty or so.  They shuffled through and finally it was my turn.  I took my summons note up.

Was everything correct?  Yes.

Are you a convicted felon?  No.

Do you have a driver’s license?  Yes.  Is it valid?  Yes.

Have a seat.

I shuffled back to my seat and began reading my book, thank you Marrian, I’m on Teacher Man now.  I lost myself in McCourt and it was almost 9 am before the folks up front began calling for our attention.

They had a video to play of a Federal Court Judge, Lewis or some such.  He looked like the man from the Morgan and Morgan commercials.  He thanked us for fulfilling our civic duty and explained how he believed jurors were the second best citizens of the nation, second only to our boys serving overseas.  We were doing just as much to protect and defend democracy as they were, except we weren’t giving our lives to do so.  But our forefathers did.  He offered a thirty second schpeel on the history of our government and he was done.

Next on the television was a lady who resembled Queen Latifah in Chicago! who was way too excited with her presentation part.  She shook her fist and pumped the air for emphasis on almost every statement.  More of the rights of citizens, how we were special, how they appreciate us.  She then spoke for a few minutes about how we should dress, which I felt was a wasted energy as we were here how we were, flip flops and all.  She then explained the positions of the court room, who was the bailiff and the reporter and the judge and the difference between civil and criminal.

The folks up front turned Fox News back on and I went back to reading.  Know it all began explaining again the process of selection to anyone who was listening.

The folks up front beckoned for our attention again and I noticed it was about 9:30.  A man in a golfer’s jacket had came in to collect his batch.  We were to listen for our number, call out “here” and file up at the front door next to the man in the green coat.  This was lost on the first batch.  They’d call out a number and repeat it.  Then they’d go cross reference for the associated name.  So and so?  Yes?  You’re up.  Oh.  No drinks, no gum, cell phones off, lap tops off, no talking.  This was repeated each time because no one seemed to grasp it the first time, nor the second and third.  Some folks got creative and instead of “here” they’d yell out Bingo or Yahtzee.  Someone said Uno and got a few laughs.

Finally, with the fourth escort, my number was called.  We went down the hallway to the elevator and once on the elevator the escort in the green jacket saw my cane.  He came close and said that when we left I should move to the head of the line and he would judge his pace by me.  He was sorry he had walked so fast before.  It wasn’t really an issue but I appreciated his sensitivity.

We finally arrived outside of the courtroom and a sheriff took over.  He called out our numbers and we were to line up in order outside the door and pay attention to who was in front of us.  I studied the green and orange and yellow plaid shirt of the man in front of me and how he had a loose white string that was unraveling from the seam on the right shoulder.  I thought of fixing it for him but then how would I recognize it was him?  We would be quiet inside and sit where we were told.  If we messed up his line, got out of order, or forgot where we sat we would be wasting everyone’s time, including our own.

We were ushered in to the courtroom and then told where to sit.  They were hard wooden pews like an old Catholic church but not even the benefit of a cushion or kneelers.  I looked over to the jury person chairs and longed to be selected to sit in those!

The judge came in and she was a pleasant enough woman, very effervescent and chatty.  She introduced by name every member of her court except the bailiffs, because she said there would be many changings of the bailiffs throughout the course of the day.

Did anyone need excused?

One man stood up and said he had a back injury and he couldn’t handle this sitting.  She asked if he was in pain and he said he was.  He was considerably older and she nodded for him to be excused.  She looked at me.  “364, are you in pain?”  There was no way in hell I was going to give up this opportunity because of some back pain!  So I told her I was fine.  She said okay and continued.

A young girl waved her hand at the judge.  She needed excused because she was deaf.  She spoke very well and clear for being deaf and seemed to either hear the judge well or be a damn good lip reader from that distance, as the judge offered her the use of audio equipment with a teleprompt type feed.  No, said the girl.  She was newly deaf and hadn’t yet learned how to use that equipment.  The judge decided not to excuse the newly deaf girl and I laughed inside at such a craptastic attempt to get out of duty.  Newly deaf girl sat back and slumped down into the pew with disgust.

We were to be sworn in and we were.

We had a standard list of questions to answer, but there may be a need to expound upon them.  If we don’t want to answer these questions about our life in the presence of other jurors we can do so in the judge’s chambers.  I can’t imagine that any of these questions are so invasive that someone would need that privacy, but so be it.

The attorneys are young.  Especially for the defense.  The state’s attorney is about my age and I am almost certain I voted for her at some point, her name is very familiar to me.  The defense attorneys look like two kids in high school participating in debate.  The boy’s suit is bigger than he is and there is a faint attempt at growing a mustache on his upper lip (or perhaps leftover chocolate from breakfast at the big boy table this morning?).  The girl to his left has brightly dyed orange hair, long and beautiful, but definitely dyed.  Her eyeshadow is dark and heavy and her lipstick looks feathered and peeling.  I feel kind of sorry for the defendant who has these kids as his defense.  But I remind myself that perhaps they are still new enough to think they can make a difference and they may have the gumption to do so.  They can’t be any worse than that Jose Baez guy.

What is your name?  I give it.

What is your occupation?  I’m unemployed, but a student.

Where did you work before?  Lance, JPMorgan, Bank of America…I pause because I am not sure how far back they want me to go and they move on while I debate it in my mind.

Where do you go to school?  Heritage.

Are you married?  Yes.

Where does your husband work?  I tell them.

What does he do?  That’s actually a tough question but I opt to give them his job title instead and that seems to satisfy them.

Do you have children? Yes.

How many?  Two.

Are they employed?  No.

Are they in school?  Yes, well no.  It hasn’t resumed yet.  The state attorney smiles and I am pretty sure she is laughing to herself at my nervousness, but I don’t want to lie in court and the court reporter is typing away furiously and so I know it is all documented.  (I really wish I could have one of these people live with me – it would win me a lot of arguments when my words get twisted!)

Have you ever been the victim of a crime?  Yes.  (I kind of wonder if anyone can honestly say no.)

What was it?  Battery and sexual abuse.  (They leave that alone and I start seeing how some people might want to talk in the chambers instead of out here).

Have you or anyone close to you ever been convicted of a crime?  Yes.

Who?  My ex-husband.

What crime?  Sexual molestation of a minor child, unlawful sexual contact with a minor child, delinquency of a minor child, unauthorized absence from the military, grand theft, petty theft, parole violations, driving on a suspended or revoked license.  I stop to try to think if I have missed anything, which I am pretty sure I had, but they heard enough and moved on.

Are you related to a member of law enforcement?  No.

Have you ever served on a jury before?  No.

Is there anything that would prevent you from fulfilling your duty?  No.

They’re done with me and they begin going through the same with everyone else.  There is one lady who is a second grade teacher, she only said teacher, but the judge got excited and interrupted to ask what grade and if she was glad to be getting back to her kids.  She was.  She was asked how long she had lived in Florida and she said for fifty years.  It surprised me because she didn’t look a day over thirty.  She was beautiful and I only hope I can look that good at fifty.

They make it through us all and begin another round of questions to certain ones of us, I’m not one of them and it rather bothers me because I am certain they don’t want me now.  They ask certain people if they read the local paper; how thoroughly; every day or not; do they trust the police; do they think that the government enforces the laws; are you influenced by the media.

We’re ushered out into the hallway and after about fifteen minutes, they dismiss several numbers back downstairs to the jury holding room.  The fourteen of us that remain are chosen!

I am chosen!  I’m a juror!

I am so excited and I think of trying to figure out how to text on my phone so I can update my Facebook status.  Then the sheriff tells us that we may not talk with anyone, no Twitter or MyBook, no emails or any communication at all.

We’re taken back inside and seated, but not in the glorious cushioned chairs I have been longing for.  No, we’ll continue to sit here on the wooden pews like the sinners we are.

The judge again thanks us and she tells us that the case may take two days.

We begin to hear the opening statements, of which I won’t mention at length except to say that the black defendant had been accused of a degree of theft by his own family.

A kid two seats to my left begins huffing and I examine him.  He has shaggy blonde hair and a partially smoked cigarette behind his ear because he is just that cool.  Idiot.

The charges are read off and the state’s attorney begins using thirty dollar words to the judge about what she is about to present as a witness.  And that kid, that stupid idiot kid mutters for us all to hear that it is bullshit and he is going to get out of it.

He stands up and yells to the judge, I can’t do this judge.

She peers over her bifocals and I am fairly sure if looks could kill he’d be sizzling.  Why not, she asks?

Because I’m a racist.

I laugh to myself inside at this.  Isn’t that like the oldest trick in the book?  The judge feels the same and tells him it isn’t her first day in the court room and he is excused.  He grins and begins to shuffle past us.  He almost makes it to me when the judge clarifies and says he isn’t excused from the courtroom, just from speaking.  I want to burst out in laughter as he trudges back to his seat on the pew.

Then he gets an idea and I can almost imagine a snarly grin that even the Grinch would be envious of.  He begins to shout from his seat.  Fucking porch monkeys, they all should be executed!  God damn niggers have ruined this country.

I am at a loss for words and I stare straight ahead.  The court reporter, court clerk and bailiff are each black, as is the defendant.  I cannot believe he just said this and we all sit in total silence.

The judge composes herself and asks for us to all be escorted outside except for him.

It’s 11:34.

I sit in the hall and listen to a few of the jurors who are sharing my disbelief at his actions, despite being told by the sheriff not to talk at all, especially not about what just occurred.

We are taken back in at 11:42 and the kid is still sitting there.  The attorneys and defendant are standing up, smiling with forced pleasant smiles.  We take our seats and the judge says she believes we are all tainted and that we may be more sympathetic to the defendant based on Mr. Smith’s outburst (she actually called him by name, but I won’t repeat it here).  As a result, we are excused and she will get a new jury.  Mr. Smith, it is the determination of the judge that you will be held in contempt of court.

As we make our way out I find myself alone in being sad.  I finally pipe up to the bailiff who is telling us all in the elevator that at least our civic duty is done for another year.  I wanted to serve on a jury! There is a chorus of pffts but then a short lady with unnaturally red hair agrees with me.

She says how she is only a citizen two years and if we lived in her old country we would appreciate what we have and how she was excited to have a chance to be a part of the greatest thing about America.

She looks Hispanic but sounds German.  I nod in agreement and feel her sorrow at being dismissed.

So my chance is a wash, perhaps in another year.

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3 responses

25 08 2010
david michel

people are stupid

22 09 2010
amy

amy…

excelent info, keep it coming…

31 10 2010
albert

albert…

excelent post, keep it coming…

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