My Civic Responsibility: A True Story

I consider myself to be very logical.  Recently, logic failed me.  Logic would tell us that a certain thing should be perceived in a positive light.  Its pedigree and purpose in our society are of the highest caliber.  This “thing” should be universally adored and people should be elbowing their way to the front of the line to participate in a;; of its myriad goodness..  Sadly, that is not the case. Of course I am talking about jury duty.

Let’s just cut to the quick shall we?  Anyone that “wants” to be on a jury should not be allowed anywhere near a court room.  And those of us that want out jury duty, should probably make up more of the jury than we do.  Why yes, I did just have jury duty and no I didn’t enjoy it.  But it is today’s topic.  Don’t pull up a chair for this one.  Why don’t you stand around in a hot hallway to read this.  It is what I did way too much of.

I first got my summons to appear in early December of 2012.  Since that was right in the middle of my son’s scheduled hospitalization, I pushed it off for 3 months. That’s the maximum.  Sadly, the piper always collects his due.  His due was March 11.

I drove to Martinez for my day in court.  I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in Contra Costa County, it is one day or one trial.  That means if you don’t leave the jury room to go to a court room on your day, you are scott-free for a year.  I’ve done that a few times.  I’ve lived in this county for 29 years.  I think I’ve been called 10 times.  Seems like way too many to me too.

Anyway, I get to the court house about 8:20.  When you have an 8:30 appointment, you should be early right?  I saw a huge line to go in the law library and I walked away perplexed on why so many people needed to see those books.  As I walked around the courthouse, I realized they had moved the entrance.  That line wasn’t for the library, it was the queue to go through the metal scanner.  I hadn’t dressed for the airport.  Great.

As I really didn’t want to be on a jury, I paid special attention to my attire this day.  A wide belt studded with metal, boots and a motorcycle jacket.  On first glance I’am probably not the guy you want judging your actions.  As you can guess, me and 200 of my closest jury associates needed to undress.  And because I was dressed for a board meeting, the nice bailiffs requested I take my jeans over my knees so they could see I was not packing.  No knives or guns, just socks on my oh so sexy legs.

The next ride at this amusement park has a long line that runs out of the jury room and snakes around the seats, where they give you forms to fill out and everyone in line asks if they can leave. No you can’t. I waited in line 25 minutes.  It was over an hour until everyone was through.  15 minutes later they called 50 names.  I wasn’t one of them. So far so good.  30 minutes after that another 50 hit the bricks.  I’m still in the dead pool, waiting my fate – 3pm or a call to a jury.  At this point the room is only half full.  If they call another 50 I know I’m a goner.  The math says avoiding the hangman has only slightly better odds than winning Powerball.  I’d rather win Powerball.  Or at least MegaMillions.  We both know how this ends.

It’s 11am and I’m off meet a judge with 49 strangers that I don’t want to know.  Being  social, this is painful.  Looking around, I see 5 or 6 people that look like they can hold their end of a conversation when I get desperate.  A bad day at Black Rock methinks.  Our nice bailiff gives 24 of us numbers, 1 to 24 of course.  I’m number 19.  I sure hope this isn’t a remake of the prisoner.  “Who’s in Charge”  “You are number 19.” 1-14 go to the jury box and 15-24 are in the front row.  There are 2 doors and we are asked to organize ourselves numerically; the jury box to the right and front row to the left.  Pay attention, because we need to do this EVERYTIME we enter the courtroom.

I chuckle, thinking this is like flying Southwest. Realization hits.  Half of these people can’t handle the complexity of this process.  More acurately, 5 of the 24 can’t seem to handle this.  I guess that’s better than I expected.  Sometimes I cry for the future of the human race.

We enter the courtroom to be greeted by the Defendant (think Cutty from the Wire or Tyrese from the Walking Dead, but dead in the eyes), the Defense Attorney and the ADA. (I watched Law and Order so I feel comfortable using the vernacular.) Both attorneys seemed to be in that 30-35 age range. I noticed the Defense Attorney decided on his stubble after watching a Miami Vice marathon; his tie looked like it just came from his client’s pocket, with designer wrinkles straight from the hood.

Fast forward past the 25 minutes of rambling common sense and rules by the very nice judge.  He was probably a few years older than me, but seemed more like one of my father’s friends.  They read the charges.  Domestic violence.  Several counts.  It reminds of an old Far Side panel.  Blah, Blah, Blah. Domestic Violence, blah, blah blah Assault, blah…. About 6 minutes of this.

So we have the ground rules and there will questions for all of us.  As t is a domestic violence case, the judge let’s people know if they are uncomfortable talking in open court they can answer privately in his chambers later. But the clock says 11:55, so it’s the mandatory lunch.  Who knew the legal profession was a union?   We are to be back at 1:30.  Let’s recap shall we?  8:30 to 11:15 doing nothing.  11:15-11:30 learning how to line up.  11:30 -11:55 rules and stuff.  And now a lunch?

After 90 minutes on my own – well at least there was a monster omelet—I was itching for more. Ok, I wanted to go home.  Getting there a few moments early, I realize there are jurors from 3 different cases in the hallway. It is hot and uncomfortable.  There are benches for roughly 20% of us.  At 2pm we are asked to queue up as we did before.  At this point only 3 people can’t do it right. I know where to stand, between the strategist from the GAP and the retiree that, even while she is missing The View and her Soaps, is very excited to be here.  To excited it seems. Note to self:  jury duty is a synonym for waiting.

Back in the courtroom, the judge asks us some questions as a group and spends a lot of time talking about procedures. Yawn.  He also lets us know our next break will be at 3:15.  Seriously?  I know jury duty is a civic duty, but does anyone care that I do not get paid for being here.  I’m pretty sure my lost income is just lost, not even a tax deduction. The judge reminds us that if you have prepaid vacation this week to Disneyland or Hawai’i you can get excused and have your  service postponed.   My lost billings are more than a trip to Disneyland and I seem to be the only that realizes that this was all in our summons. I must have been the only one to read it.  I am so proud of my fellow inmates.

Finally the ADA gets to ask questions.  It is clear that nearly every woman on the jury has had issues with domestic violence by the looks on their faces and their immediate request for “private” time.  During this group therapy session we learn a lot about several people.  Juror 9 is an older (60s) Chinese woman.  She has answered every question on her forms (from our earlier E-ticket ride)  that she will have trouble be unbiased or open minded.  Why?  She wasn’t born here. Oh, and her daughter is an attorney.  The more they question her, the more circular her answers are.  I have $20 that she can’t find the milk at the grocery store on successive trips.

“You said on your questionnaire that you wouldn’t be able to judge the case on the evidence. Why?”

“I think I can”

“Why did you answer the question that way?”

“I get confused. I wasn’t born here. I don’t agree with all your laws.”

“But you can be open minded and judge the case on its merits?”


This went on and on. All I can think about is that it is too late to cleanse the gene pool.    And yes, she is one of the people who can’t understand how the lines and numbers work.  There are 3 other people who are similarly nutso, like Juror 20 next to me, ready to trade her soaps for the hangman’s noose.  She’s almost drooling at the thought, leaning forward with every question and speaking up at will. She’s never directly been asked a question, but we all know how she feels about everything.  All that was missing was some drool.

Juror 5 has a dislike for the legal system and clearly has some axes to grind.  When she talks she shakes a bit.  Do you think that’s a tell?  Juror 17 knows of the ADA.  They went to the same High School, but 10 years or so apart.  Turns out his sister dated the ADA through High School.

Reading between the lines, the ADA is laying out his case.  He’s only going to bring 1 or 2 witness.  The victim and he’s told us we won’t like her, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a crime.  I keep thinking meth whore.  If I have to serve on this case, estimated to be 5 days after jury selection and not including deliberation, I plan on tying to count her teeth.  Then he says if he only brings one witness and they are credible, can we convict.  I shake my head no and raise my hand, which was the response he asked for.  It is me and Juror 5 on the hot seat.  It wasn’t hot.

This is the crossroad I’ve been waiting for.  In previous excursions into the hell of jury duty, I had been questioned individually.  Usually, when they realize I have a BA I’m let go.  The Master’s degree is the cherry on the “you are excused” sundae.  Not today.  I needed a strategy to be excused without being overt.  I don’t need a contempt charge on my currently clean rap sheet.

When asked about my feelings on this topic I discussed Rashomon.  That’s right; I dropped some Kurosawa on him.  The basic point of the movie was 4 people see the same event and all see it differently.  As I discussed multiple points of perspective to triangulate the truth, Juror 5 gave me a “Hallelujah!”  Or close enough.  She chimed in very enthusiastically.

Later, as a group we were quizzed on if we thought there was some level of physicality (violence, not sex) that was acceptable in a relationship.  At least 4 people, including the old bitty to left, the infamous juror 20, thought it was just fine.  Seriously?  We aren’t talking about spanking a misbehaving toddler; we are talking about slugging your wife.  What year and country is this?  I started wondering if should have worn brass knuckles to court.

Later I’m asked about my previous jury service.  I have been on two juries, once as an alternate.  Rather than use the term jury duty, I mix in “empanelled”.  Vocabulary scares people.  So does being an independent thinker. Asked if the jury had reached a verdict I said no.  When ask why, I said that several members had made up their mind before all the evidence was presented.  I don’t think I needed to mention that I hung the jury.  It started at 11-1 and ended at 8-4. (I may write about this later.)

After some more group therapy it is 3:15 and time for our union mandated break.  Of course it is after 4:00 by the time we are allowed back in the court room.  Juror 9 wants to get in our line again.  I politely point her around the corner.  She’s surprised I know where she’s supposed to go.  When we go in, 3 people still don’t get the lines.  How do I know this?  They have to crawl over me to get where they need to be. I notice Jurors 2 and 4 have been excused during the break.  Later I hear Juror 2 is worried about being to make is car payment.  I guess that qualifies as hardship.

Now it is the defense attorney’s turn. He spent a lot time on burden of proof and that the defendant did not need to testify.  He lets us know that if a witness cries, it doesn’t mean she’s more credible. He must be referring to the meth whore.  I talk to my neighbor about his nice suit paired with the most crumpled tie I have ever seen.  I think he was surprised at my answer that I understood that he didn’t need to mount a defense if the ADA didn’t present a strong enough case to convict and that the jury could acquit.  I didn’t care who sent me home as long as one of them did it and soon.

It is 4:50 and I can tell they are ready to start the challenges.  Sadly, the union says we need to break at 5:00 so the judge spews a few rules about not discussing the case and tell us to come back at 9:00 am the next day.  We are admonished not to be late.

The next day I arrive early and make it through the line. Of course on day two I move from scruffy biker to well-dressed professional.  I wore slacks and sport coat and, of course, shaved.  Confusion tactics. though I probably over- thought it.

Several people were late, so we did not go into the courtroom until 9:45.  This is not how I wanted to spend my time being unpaid. Juror 9 once again wanted be in our line.  I gave her my best reproachful look and sent her packing to her line.  I think Juror 18 enjoyed the humor of my reaction.  This day only 1 other person didn’t understand the line and had to crawl over us.

Today the Defense Attorney wore a tie that looked pressed.  A good dry cleaner is the key to the well-dressed man.  But even a good dry cleaner can’t help you when you stuff your tie in your back pocket as you flee through the bedroom window when her husband comes home early.  Yeah, my imagination is abit to vivid sometimes.

Once we start, the judge moved jurors 15-16 to the open seats.  He explained the process of challenges and what would happen. I think 80% of the people slept through high school civics. The attorneys alternate excusing people.  Whether they are preemptory or for cause is not mentioned.  Juror 5 is the first to go and she is in shock.  I believe she is the single most clueless person I have run across in the last 10 years.  She did everything she could to be sent home and was surprised, perhaps even hurt when it happened.  Seriously, if this woman’s daughter is really an attorney, I’m scared for her clients – this is where 50% of her DNA came from!

They move Juror 16 to the now open seat, vacated by Juror 5.  Juror 4 is excused.  17 goes to 4. 9 is excused and  Juror 18 goes there.  I believe this called is judicial musical chairs.  I am confused because I don’t hear any music.

The new 4 is excused and it is my turn to go there.  The judge comments that 4 is the hot seat with a fatherly laugh.  I wonder how long I need to sit there.  I hope it’s not more than 20 minutes. As I gracefully try to slide to the seat, the ADA announces that “Let’s save Mr. Greenberg the trouble, he’s excused.”

On the face of it, I look dejected. Inside I’m dancing!  I nod to the few people I’ve chatted briefly with and Like Colonel. Flagg, I’m gone.

Today’s blog is brought to you with help from Difford and Tillbrook. Can you spot the differences?