Ogle Embedded: Jury Duty (Part I)
7:18 AM EST on November 9, 2007
The dreaded summons came to my home. Sure, it isn't quite as bad as the kind of summons that says you are being sued, but jury duty still sucks. I know because this is my second time to be called even though I still haven't hit thirty. (And yes, I'm tired of senior citizens marvelling, "You've been called twice? I've never been called for jury duty." Bite me, Grandma.)
Having done a stint at the county courthouse when I was a young pup of eighteen, when I at least had my college text books to study, I knew I was in for hours and hours of boredom. So, when I showed up at the Federal Courthouse, I came up with a plan to fight the tedium: share my experience with you, TheLostOgle reader.
7:00 - I arrive downtown seeking day long parking that won't require me to take out a second mortgage on my home. It's not that I am new to parking downtown, it's just that my employer usually covers the parking, and the court will only reimburse $5. The one lot that costs that exact amount and does not require a marathon walk is, obviously, full. So, I end up at the Main Street garage, which is a long jaunt, but at least it caps at $7 and has the benefit of going out on to uncongested streets toward I-40 if I get stuck at the courthouse until rush hour.
7:15 - I arrive at the Federal Courthouse and get to stand in line at the metal detector. Apparently, someone decided the only thing forced public service was missing was the thrill of going through airport security. Now, that is not a problem.
7:20 - Oh yeah, one of the rules of the court is that camera phones are not allowed. Since I have a camera phone, I was forced to trade with my wife, who does not have that option on her cell. The drawback, besides it being obsolete five years ago, is that it is hot pink in color. Showing that off to the security guard was fun.
7:25 - I check in and get ushered to a large court room. The summons demanded we all be there by 7:30 and the pews in the room are mostly full. As always, everyone chose an aisle seat, so I have to scoot through a bunch of people to get a wall seat, trying not to smack them in the face with my backpack as I do.
8:05 - Nothing has happened yet. It's a good thing I was on time.
8:15 - The court clerk introduces herself and explains that a judge is about to come in to "qualify" us all. She then cues a video to begin.
8:17 - A woman in an electric blue lady's suit and a haircut that could have been fashioned by Flock of Seagulls starts the orientation. I'm pinning the production date for this video at 1984, give or take two years.
8:18 - An old lady informs us that she was worried she wouldn't understand all that was being said at the trial since her old, feeble, uneducated mind was not prepared for a bunch of legal lingo. After her experience, she now knows that all you need is your "common sense". That's one of my pet peeves--at least, ever since 2000 when everyone was talking about how all a President needs is common sense.
8:20 - The first borderline racist moment of the video occurs when a Mexican guy reads his scripted lines about "sitting around all day" and how he's not used to that.
8:22 - We are learning about the Voir Dire process. That's where the judge or lawyers ask the potential jurors questions to determine if any conflicts exist.
8:23 - Some guy who looks kind of like me, if I had hair, casually mentions not getting any action. Then, a CPA-looking lady complains about getting dismissed without any reason before taking a call...that's always one of my favorite instructional video techniques. Why are people being interviewed on cameras always answering their phone?
8:25 - Interesting fact: The judge in the Voir Dire section looks like Ponch from C.H.I.P.S.
8:27 - Peremptory challenges = lawyers get to kick you off strictly on a hunch. In response to this, they have an old farmer guy gripe about it. Hey, if you want people to take you seriously, don't wear a John Deere hat.
8:29 - A female Asian doctor waxes philosophically about how wonderful it was to be involved in the process. Then we get a breakdown of how a trial works:
- The prosecutor in this section looks like Kelly from The Office
- The woman on the stand looks like Hillary Clinton
- One of the jurors looks like Anita Hill
- One of the baliffs looks like Bob from Runaway Bride
- It occurs to me that I probably should have been paying attention to something other than who the actors reminded me of
8:33 - The same old lady who bragged about having common sense now talks about hanging juries.
8:35 - A sassy black lady talks about getting personal with the other jurors but not talking about the trial. Apparently, she made some life-long friends in the process.
8:36 - Mr. Mexican felt bad not telling his wife what was going on. I know what he meant, but I prefer to think she didn't even know he was on a jury and she spent the whole time thinking he was having an affair.
8:38 - The old lady is back, and this time she's griping that she couldn't look up things about the trial in books. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have an actor who looked internet savvy make this point. Oh wait, this video was made in 1984.
8:40 - Just to hammer the point home, the Flock of Seagulls moderator reminds us that all we need is common sense.
8:41 - Time for a bathroom break. Scanning the room, I'm surprised to see that almost everyone is wearing formal attire. Being that the literature provided with my summons only mentioned that you couldn't wear clothing that brought attention to yourself, I came pretty casually. I only spotted a few other people dressed more casually. One is a guy with piercings all over his face. Another is a guy who looks like a Quaker, or at minimum, a big fan of Abraham Lincoln.
8:52 - A court deputy comes out and slams her gavel (I thought only the judges got those) telling us to rise for the honorable Valerie Something-Or-Other. The clerk looks really smug while drinking in the power of making 300 citizens cave to her demand.
8:53 - Judge Val thanks us for our service and begins her spiel about how much our time is appreciated. She introduces us to the smug deputy and the court reporter, Tracy.
8:54 - The deputy calls roll. Poor Tracy has to type the roll in grueling detail. I'm glad I'm not a court reporter...which you probably can't tell considering the length of my journals.
8:59 - There's another casual dresser that I missed before. He looks like he could be a member of ZZ Top
9:01 - Why do people keep correcting the deputy's pronounciation of their name or explaing that they go by "Gene"? It's not like this is the first day of class and Mrs. Deputy is going to refer to them the rest of the year by the wrong thing if they don't speak up.
9:05 - Roll call is over. As I feared, it appears that of the 300 or so people called, not one is someone I have even a passing acquaintance with. No former co workers, or old classmates. No famous people. This is going to be a long experience.
9:06 - The deputy makes us take an oath, which of course ends with "so help me God." That's pretty effective for a Methodist like me, but any atheist in the room was just given permission to lie their ass off.
9:08 - Qualifying questions:
- Are you an American citizen?
- Have you lived in the district for at least one year?
- That includes most of Western Oklahoma including Beaver County...also, Oklahoma County
- Do you have any criminal charges pending that could be punishable by a year or more in prison?
- Have you been criminally convicted and not had your civil rights restored?
- Can you understand English?
- The question was asked in English...how would someone who was ineligible for this reason know?
- Are you mentally incapable?
- Some guy actually raises his hand, and is called up to speak with the judge.
- First of all, this has to be a Catch-22--if you know your mentally incapable, doesn't that give you "common sense"?
- He doesn't get off -- and now, he has to sit around here all day being looked at as the guy who outed himself as retarded
- Another lady gives it a go -- honestly, it would explain the fashion choice. I just thought she was a witch.
- 0 for 2
- We have a third: I think this lady is trying the "mentally deficient relative" tack
- No more takers
9:20 - Everyone qualifies, and the judge explains our service is a matter of "extreme public trust". She even busts out the Golden Rule saying we should act like the kind of jurors we'd want if we were on trial. (Does that mean we're supposed to rule in favor of the defendent no matter what...because if I were on trial, that's the kind of jurors I'd want.)
9:22 - We are sworn in to the juror pool...so helping us God again.
9:23 - Court dismissed. On to the Juror Assembly Room.
CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR THE THRILLING (HOPEFULLY) CONCLUSION
Clark Matthews is a world-class checkers champion, co-founder, and basketball editor-emeritus of The Lost Ogle
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