Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The First Rule of Jury Duty is You Do Not Talk About Jury Duty

I'm a jury duty magnet. I've had to report in just about every three years since I turned 18, which is the minimum amount of time they have before they can legally send me another notice. The first few times I didn't have to go to the courthouse; I called the number on the juror card the day before I was to appear and an automated message told me that my group was on standby.

A few years later, I had to go to the Quincy courthouse, which I walked by several times before I realized where to go. I guess I was expecting a big marble building with massive pillars and that lady with the scales and blindfold out front. It was just a plain brick building that looked like an elementary school. Anyway, when I did find it, I proceeded to sit in a room all morning waiting for something to happen. A bailiff came in a few times and told us that our presence in the jury pool was causing cases to plea rather than go to trial, so we were serving an important purpose. Which was fine with me, because I really didn't want to get picked.

I had jury duty again on Monday, this time in Dedham. The court is just a fifteen minute walk from my grandmother's house, so I stayed there Sunday night so I could be there at 8:00 AM Monday morning. The jury pool had previously been held in the basement of the Supreme Court, but was moved across the street to the Registry of Deeds. Still, the room we were in looked like a typical courtroom like the ones on daytime tv. There was over a hundred potential jurors packed into the room and we all watched a VHS tape from the mid to late 1980s about the differences between civil and criminal cases, and stressed that if we are selected to be on a jury, we cannot read or watch anything about the case, we can't tell anyone anything about the case, and we can't talk amongst ourselves about the case. The video was hosted by a judge who, while undoubtedly prominent and well-respected in 1987, had a habit of pronouncing "r"s as "w"s and "jury" as "Julie." Could they not have found someone else? It just seems cruel to make her say Julie 300 times. I wonder if she was deaf maybe? Is it against the law to make fun of a judge? Actually, now that I think about it, she did a great job and was very informative and there was nothing wrong with that video whatsoever, let's move on.

After the video, the called out numbers 1-90 to go across the street to the Supreme Court. I was number 7. Despite my several previous times being called to jury duty, this was the first time I'd ever actually made it this far into the process. We all walked over to the other building and found seats in courtroom 3. A judge introduced a civil case that we could potentially be serving on. She introduced the plaintiffs and the defendant, then the lawyers introduced themselves. The first guy said his name and the name of his law firm, and that he was representing the plaintiffs. The second guy said his name and law firm, which was the same firm as the first guy. And I thought "Gee, that's weird, the same firm is being used for both sides. Can they even do that?" But then he said "...and I will also be representing the plaintiffs." Ah. Right. Idiot. Lastly, an older guy stood up and said he was the lawyer for the defense. From a different firm. With his name in the title, even.

After everyone was introduced and the particulars were laid out, the long and arduous process of jury selection began. There were 14 seats in the juror's box to fill, with 90 people to fill them. Actually, I was already sitting in the juror's box, but only because that was the only place left to sit. The judge asked us a series of a questions, starting with whether anyone knew either the plaintiffs or defendant. (Off to the side, a lady cupped what looked like one of those horse feedbags over her face whenever anyone said anything. I'm guessing it was a recording device.) If the answer to any of the questions was affirmative, we were instructed to hold our jury card in the air until a court officer counts them all and its put on record. I held mine up three or four times, confident that I'd be out of here in no time.

When all of the questions were finished, the judge, flanked by lawyers for both sides, called each potential juror up to the bench one at a time for follow up questions. Since I was number 7, I didn't have to wait very long for my turn. The first five people--for some reason there was no juror 1--went up to the bench individually, quietly spoke with the judge, and were then either told to take a seat in the jury box or were escorted out of the courtroom. Four of the 14 seats had been filled by the time my number was called. I approached the bench, and the judge asked if I knew anyone who was born at South Shore Hospital. I said "Yeah. Me." And my brothers, my mom, cousins' kids...need I go on? The next follow up question was if anyone in my family is a physician or works in the medical field. "My girlfriend works at Harvard Medical School, my cousin and aunt are both nurses, my brother works with Medicare...something." I was sure that was enough, but she asked if any of them worked in pediatrics.

No, I said. Well, I don't know. I couldn't remember what field my cousin is in. I know she works at Brigham and Women's in Boston. Then she asked if any of this will sway my judgment in any way. Say yes say yes say yes....

"I don't think so."

Damn it!

I bounced back, telling her that I live in Weymouth, down the street from South Shore Hospital (ooh, good one!) and I didn't have any means of transportation to get to Dedham every day. The judge looked at the lawyers and asked if there was a train or bus that went from Weymouth to Dedham. No one came up with anything. Looks like I had just punched my ticket out of there.

"Well, my grandmother lives five minutes away. That's how I got here this morning. I guess I could stay there."


Ironically, the only unsolicited information I didn't give her was that I can't keep a secret. Why didn't I mention that? There's no way I'd be able to not talk about this case for 8 days. I read all the Harry Potter spoilers when each book came out, and I've never even read a damn Harry Potter book! It's compulsive. I can't help it. And I can't lie. It's not that I don't lie, I'm just terrible at it.

Before I realized what had happened, my name was called to sit in seat number five in the jury box. Well that's just ducky. I took my seat and watched the proceedings from my new home for the next eight days, which was almost exactly where I was sitting before I had been called up. When juror 18's number was called, the officer accidentally said juror 20's name. "I've been called a lot of things, but never (John Smith, or whatever #20's name was)" the guy bellowed. When he was selected to sit in the jury, I was pretty sure he was going to maneuver himself into being the foreman. He seemed like the abrasive type that wants to be in charge of everything.

The first 12 seats were filled pretty quickly. It wasn't until the final two that the lawyers decided to start scrutinizing, at which point a steady stream of people approached the bench, said their piece, and were on their way. What were they saying? What was their secret? I should have said I hated doctors. Or I loved doctors. Either one would work, really. I guess by this time you've figured out that this case involved doctors. A young couple were suing their doctor because their son has cerebral palsy, a condition that can be caused by complications at birth. Don't tell anybody, okay?

Even after all 14 had been selected, the lawyers were given the opportunity to contest anyone they wanted. I might have made it through the first round, but with all the people left in the pool with no connections to the hospital or physician relatives, surly one of them would be a better fit for this case. The take-charge guy was the first to go. I didn't see that coming. Every time someone was removed from the jury box, they had to get someone else to fill their place. Sometimes, someone would be picked and then immediately excused. Eventually, after going through around 63, 64 jurors the 14 were finalized, myself included. We were dismissed for the day, but had to be in at ten minutes to night the next morning when the trial began. The judge anticipated it to be 8 days, which would run from 9 AM to 1PM, we'd have the weekend off, as well as the following Wednesday, and the deliberations were expected to start next Thursday.

As I walked back to Nana's house I called Michele, then my mom, and told them they wouldn't be seeing me for a while. I went home and grabbed my toothbrush and a bunch of clothes, said goodbye, and got ready for my first time on an actual Julie.

Tuesday morning I left the house at 8 and started a leisurely walk to the courthouse. It was cold out, but I had a scarf wrapped around my face. I stopped at a bagel place on the corner and got a bagel and some coffee, and continued on into the building. There were already a couple of people in the jury room getting acquainted with each other. Actually, two of them knew each other previously because they coached a team together. Another younger woman was on one of those teams. I guess knowing other jurors doesn't get you out of jury duty either. As it got closer to 9, more people trickled in, and I started to get into the whole being on a jury thing. My grandmother loved having my around, and the other jurors seemed pretty cool, and since we weren't allowed to talk about the trial with each other, maybe I could subtly mention that I do freelance graphic design. And I passed a panini place on the over that I could try for lunch. Plus I told the judge I was unemployed, and she said I could fill out some paperwork and get $50 a day for this. Yeah, come to think of it, this is a blessing in disguise.

The bailiff did a head count to see if we were all in yet, and joked that this was the hardest part of his morning. Still missing one more. After a few minutes, the last guy showed up and we got ready to head into the courtroom. The judge came in right behind him, and told us that she had some sad news.

We all know that last minute deals were made all the time before cases go to trial, so I think we were all expecting her to say that there was a settlement and we can all go home. Instead, she solemnly told us that the boy's father went into a diabetic coma the night before, and that he had passed away early that morning. He was 34. I noticed that he left about midway through the jury selection, but I thought maybe he was bored out of him mind like we were. The judge said the case will continue, but obviously it will be on hold indefinitely to deal with funeral arrangements and to take care of her son, since she had previously worked while her husband was the child's primary caregiver. And because trials can take months to schedule, when it does start up again, they will need to select a whole new jury and start over.

Yes, we all wanted to get out of jury duty, but not this way. And I was actually starting to look forward to the rest of the trial. Everyone just sat there in complete and utter shock, unable to believe what just happened. Everyone except the guy who came in late, who said "Are you guys just going to sit around here?" and immediately went home.


mr. schprock said...

Whoa. Didn't see that one coming.

Nice post there, Mr. Squeegee.

LL said...

What the hell happened to the Random Squeegee that I knew and loved???

Also I have to agree... not a good way to get out of julie duty. And I didn't see that one coming either.

John said...

I needed a change. Plus that ridiculous comic from the last one was screwing up the masthead.

n5 said...

Sad reason to get out of jury duty.

Next time you're up a good way to get out is to raise your hand when asked whether you were employed in law enforcement. Once you get called up there say you heard the question wrong and that you work as etc etc. Looking confused will certainly get you out.

trinamick said...

A new post? And it's about something I know a little about? Clearly, I've stumbled into the wrong blog.

I think this story needs an alternate ending. Maybe the father was taken back to his home planet. One day, he will return with a cure for his son. The only side effect will be that Heidi Montag will die in his place. I think we can all live with that.

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