Wednesday, July 28, 2010

jury duty

the day began auspiciously. Seeing the giant P sign with its welcoming green "open" sign at St. Paul's Plaza, I pulled into the parking garage, up the ramp, and up to the ticket machine. On the ticket machine was a sign which read "garage full. ticket holders only. press intercom for service." I can not back out because there are cars behind me, and I can not go in because I can't get a ticket. No one answers the intercom, so I have to back up, forcing cars behind me to back up, and drive against the arrows out. This affair nearly makes me late.

I sit through the orientation video, filmed circa 1980. There are guys with Kid 'n Play hairstyles in the video, and all the women have shoulder pads and heavy eye shadow.

I get my number and go to the Quiet Room. I'm sitting at a table with a young Orthodox Jew. He and I have matching black shoulder bags full of books. I plop down a French grammar. He drops a leather-bound Talmud in Hebrew. I pull out Colasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Tristram Shandy, a Stieg Larrson novel, and Lapham's Quarterly. He smiles and stacks up Averroes, Gibbon, Dion Fortune on the Qabbalah, and Philip Roth. I wish we weren't in the Quiet Room because I want to talk to him.

The pager comes on and announces some juror numbers. I fumble around for my summons, going through all the pockets of my bag. Nothing! The Jew watches me, a big smile on his face. I check my pockets, I look on the floor. Then I recall throwing away the plastic bag from my Baltimore Sun. Sure enough, when I look in the trash can, my summons is in there. I have to reach in and rummage in the trash to retrieve it. The Jew points at me and holds his stomach in mock laughter, a twinkle in his eye. Then the pager comes on and announces more numbers. He goes through his bag, his pockets, and finally finds his summons after several moments of panicked shuffling inserted between the leaves of the Decline and Fall--right at a passage describing Commodus dispatching gladiators in arena combat. I point at him and put my hand over my mouth in mock laughter. We laugh for real but are shushed by the bailiff.

We are supposed to lunch from noon until 1:45, but at 11:50 we are called to a courtroom. The jury selection commences in earnest. In all the times I've been to jury duty I've never made it this far in the process. There are questions and everyone must state objections or reasons they feel unable to serve. Those with conflicts or problems are brought one-by-one to the front. My friend the Jew is excused. After a couple hours, the jurors grow restless. We've been couped up since 8 in the morning, and it is nearing 2 pm. Finally there are 12 people in the well, and there is still a cushion of two-dozen numbers between the last called and my own. I feel secure that I'm safe today. The defense attorney keeps looking at me, however, turning in her chair. She gestures at me and her client, an enormous African American man with a shaved head and long beard, nods. Despite the fact she has agreed to each juror currently seated, when the judge asks if there are objections to the array the defense attorney says yes, dismissing one by one several white male jurors until I am called down and put in seat number 4. Then the state's attorney and the defense attorney agree that the jury is acceptable. D'oh.

In the deliberation room before the trial there are some rowdy loud ghetto people howling with laughter. It's actually fun sitting in there and swapping stories with them, my fellow jurors. We joke about the fact the clerk was calling names of jurors who didn't respond to numbers. I say the defendent was looking up those names on Facebook as soon as he heard them. One granny has her shoes off and she's got her feet up on the table. Some guy is talking smack about how females ruin everything, and how the city of Baltimore is fucked up because of women mayors. This causes a mild ruckus, with finger-wagging, eye-rolling, and much discussion about whether men or women are the bigger problem. All of us are in shock that we actually got selected for once.

At 4:45 the trial starts. We hear testimony from two police officers who witnessed and apprehended the defendent after he bought drugs. There are a handful of procedural objections. The judge puts on a loud white noise machine when counsel approaches the bench. The police look bemused. The defendent looks surly. The attorneys look like they are 24 or 25. They were born shortly after Law and Order first came on the air. The judge announces suddenly that "this will end a different way," and excuses the jurors from service. I have no idea why.


Silenus said...

sounds like he got cold feet about having a jury trial and decided whatever plea bargain was offered didn't sound so bad after all.

ellen cherry said...

you will now be off their list for 3 years because you served on a jury!! congrats. it's an insane process, but being in the jury room and trying to make sense out of that process, with people (like me) who have no sense at all, was an interesting trip. You know I loved The Wire. After jury duty, you realize even more how amazing that show was.