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Reporting for Duty 2: Scenes from a Courthouse

February 9, 2010

They got me after all. Imagine my surprise and utter horror when I received a ‘Failure to Appear’ notice from the jury service in the mail. Lousy bureaucracy. Like it was my fault that their automated voicemail system informed me I didn’t have to report for jury duty the week of December 28th, but failed to tell me the whole week was null and void because I didn’t call in until that Monday? Or that by New Year’s Eve the system had become stuck in some sort of time loop that I suspected a certain Doctor might have had a hand in? My fault that it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and therefore impossible to get ahold of an actual human being? (Well, yes, that last one was sort of my fault since I’d purposely scheduled my jury duty for that very reason.)

The Hollywood Courthouse telephone operators were entirely unsympathetic to my plight, and so I am forced to show up at 8:45 on February 8th, 2010, or Pay. The. Price. I can only assume this means they would have slapped me in handcuffs and started selecting the jury for my trial.

While I sit around waiting in the jury pool, mocha latte in hand, Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey in my bag, iPhone out, I glance around the room, and realize this is an excellent opportunity to hone my people-watching skills.

Along the wall closest to the door is a bank of three computers. A long, detailed letter sits open on the desktop in front of one man in a striped red shirt and white socks with black sneakers. He has sunglasses perched on top of dark hair, and sips from a traveler’s mug of coffee – black, probably, with maybe a hint of cream.

He has Mail, and by the look of it, I say it’s from a loved one, perhaps some relative or lover in a foreign land – like Canada, or Mexico – who writes once a week with a full account of his or her days, and a paragraph or two about how much that person misses the man in the red striped shirt. This epistle is so important that the man can’t wait until he gets home to read it.

He rests his chin on his fist, as he scrolls down the very long message, oblivious to the room full of strangers reading over his shoulder. I imagine that the two words at the bottom of the note are ‘Take care,’ or ‘Love always.’

Or maybe it’s just a memo from his boss about the company’s new policy on sexual harassment.

On his left, a woman in a coral t-shirt tucked into her black jeans, with eighties hair pushed high away from her forehead, touch-types her way around Yahoo. She doesn’t seem to know what she’s looking for, one finger at a time, but has a look of permanent bewilderment. She forgets to sign in, holding up the proceedings for everyone.

The impassivity of the jury clerk is impressive. Maybe he’s on some sort of medication that turns a man into the walking dead. Instead of brains, the word that groans from his lips is, “Forms…”

Mr. Shiny-Shoes (which don’t match his charcoal grey hoodie) is impervious to any sob story, heart hardened against even the most ardent tears. He has his routine and upon completion of his paperwork, pops a DVD into the television with a ‘Do Not Touch’ label, though the contraption is so large and boxy, its not as if a person would get very far.

According to the informative video, which is populated by actors pretending to be jurors, California is the greatest state in the Union. I had no idea. Nor was I aware that being a juror is often a “deep and moving experience,” so much so that jurors keep in touch, writing one another long, detailed letters about the illegal activities of their neighbors, no doubt.

The video wants to make it clear that if you (and it means you, Juror #6) are peremptorily dismissed from the courtroom, it’s not personal. Except when it is.  And don’t feel too bad, because it doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a juror – there are other courts that might take you, even if you mouth off about gun control.

Also important to remember: no personal investigation of the crime. Don’t leave the courthouse and travel to the crime scene to get your CSI on. Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and other amateur detectives would be quickly excused from jury service, but Edward James Olmos, Camryn Manheim, Harrison Ford, and Jamie Lee Curtis were not.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 12, 2010 7:59 am

    I’ve somehow managed to…uh..never have jury duty…let’s just leave it at that…But every time I hear/read someone’s description of the experience the whole thing sounds really, really interesting. And then there’s that Pauly Shore movie “Jury Duty” which they should probably show to all potential jurors just to get them psyched on what they’re going to get to do.

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