Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Jury Duty

It happened at last.  Always a fear in the back of any citizen’s mind is the spectre of Jury Duty.  Shockingly, I have voted since I turned 18, and have never even received a summons.  I don’t know if this was because I was on some sort of government watch list, or if they just figured I would never show up anyway.  I do have a tendency to ignore my mail, so there is a distinct chance I have received a summons before but never even opened the envelope.  You can't escape forever though.  Your luck will eventually run out.  Just like in combat, my number came up. 

I had mixed feelings when I received the summons.  Secretly I have always wanted to take part in the judicial system.  I think I would have been an excellent trial lawyer as I am persuasive and would enjoy the stage aspect of the courtroom.  I know I could confidently walk across the courtroom in a $2500 suit and casually toss a legal pad on the table while badgering a witness.  I do a variation of that all the time with Leo right now for God’s sake.  It seems easy from the outside looking in.  Let’s be honest though.  I think those dreams would have come unraveled when I failed to memorize any key legal statutes or procedures.  My gut tells me that “Objection!  The prosecution is being a total dick to my client!” might not hold much water in the court room.  My legal dreams are probably akin to those people in the stands at an NFL game that are just as positive they could go down on the field and play QB.  I’ll bet just like in the NFL, the game moves faster when you are actually on the field.

I had to report to the Elyria Courthouse in Lorain County.  The courthouse is on the square in Elyria, which is sort of like the exact opposite of town squares like Chagrin Falls OH, or Sonoma CA.  Where they have boutiques, nice restaurants, and charm, the square in Elyria has closed karaoke bars, martial arts supplies, and drifters.  The courthouse itself is a decent building as it must be the town’s remaining source of income via court costs and fines.  You can’t miss it.  It is the only building on the square with any activity whatsoever. Stop on by.  This building is an excellent place to meet a single mother with tattoos on her breasts, amputee, or rangy looking dude with a goatee that is continually in legal trouble.  If I were a producer for the TV show “Cops”, I would do a casting call here.  It’s pure gold.  The building is a living monument to low expectations and repeated mistakes.

I sat in a large room with one TV that played “Live with Kelly” while the prospective jurors gathered.  Upon arrival most people have the same look that a new kid in any grade school has during his/her first day.  “Where do I sit?  Do I know anybody?”  This is when I learned my first painful lesson about jury duty.  “OK everyone.  We will be gathering up everyone to go upstairs for jury selection, but first we have to wait for the judge to finish up something.  I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”  Time is all relative.  Each time someone said they would be back in ten minutes, that meant thirty.  Twenty minutes meant 50-75.  The wheels of justice move slowly in this country, and that is mostly due to the fact that everyone is stuck waiting around all day.  I got more reading done here than on my last two beach vacations.

Eventually we were placed in a line based on what number prospective juror we were.  I was #22, and stood next to an overeager fat dorky guy in glasses and an elderly black woman that never seemed to know exactly what was happening from moment to moment. We were marched upstairs to the courtroom and then directed where to sit.  Due to the overflow of prospective jurors, I was sat down directly behind the defendant.  The defendant was in orange and white striped prison garb, and sported a shaved head with very fashionable glasses.  I immediately wanted to know what he looked like on his mug shot as his lawyer must have had him cleaned up to look as presentable as possible.  My guess is he was sporting a Charlie Manson meets Boxcar Willie look prior to entering The System.  It was then I glanced to my left and noticed the black woman was crying.

“I don’t want nothin’ to do with this!  I’m church people.  I don’t think I have the right to judge nobody.”, she said as tears streamed down her face.  This was going on as the judge was giving pretrial instructions to the crowd.  No one was paying attention to the fact that a sixty something year old woman was totally falling apart three feet from the defendant.  I leaned in and comforted her by saying, “It’s OK.  They only take 12 jurors.  We are numbers 22 and 23.  They would have to dismiss ten other people for us to be in the jury box.  You’ll be fine.”  She sniffled and looked up with a sudden flash of optimism.  “Really?”

The prosecution was a petite cute little blond that was wound up way too tightly.  As she made her way with seemingly pointless questions during jury selection, it seemed like she needed to make a consistent effort not to fly off the handle and shout at people.  She had worked very hard to be here and no one was going to mess up her career godammit!  I imagine her as someone that would yell at you after you went out of your way to buy her something because you got “the wrong one”.  Here sweetie!  I got you this perfume you like!  “You know I don’t like the #4!  I like the #3!  If you ever paid attention to anything at all you certainly would have noticed that!  It’s just like last time when you were supposed to pick up the dry cleaning on Tuesday but you waited until Wednesday!  How many times did I tell you that blah blah blah…”  In short, she is probably perfect for the job of prosecutor. It’s nice to see someone with the natural trait of “ballbusting” finding a perfect career match.

The defense attorney was a laid back guy I immediately liked despite recognizing he was working us.  I identified with him as a guy that seemed amused by the tedious protocol of the courtroom and had a bit of a fly by the seat of the pants element to him.  He seemed like the kind of guy that wasn’t worried about finals because he had a buddy at the Frat that had a copy of the test.  While everyone else tried to find the tickets for the Big Concert, he had a hookup that would let him in the stage door.  If this was a high school class, he was the popular guy that breezed through school while the prosecutor was the one that stewed about how “it wasn’t fair” that things were so easy for him.  He would have been just as at home selling upscale cars or PGA Golf Tour Sponsorships.

The jury selection dragged on.  And on.  And on.  There are a series of questions asked to identify if there is some reason why you shouldn’t be on the jury.  For the most part, this seems like a waste of time as no one was getting left off the hook.  For example, the judge will ask, “Does anyone here have a close friend or family member in law enforcement?”.  (Almost everyone does by the way)  He then asks, “Do you think your relationship would be a factor in not allowing you to remain fair and impartial?”.  Every single time the person responds, “No.”.  I mean, what the hell are you going to say?  “My brother is a cop and he tells me that there are so many shitbags that go free because of legal bullshit.  So if this guy actually got arrested, he’s probably guilty as fuck.  Fuck this guy.  Let's lock him up!”  Everyone pretends that they are totally unbiased.

The interesting thing is when you first get called to jury duty, you want to get out of it.  Then this weird transformation happens as the selection process continues.  Suddenly you find you want to be on the jury mostly because the lawyers are trying to figure out if they don’t want you.  It’s like the VIP phenomenon at a nightclub.  As soon as a velvet rope goes up around a certain area to make it “special”, everyone wants to get in there.  It is the same with the jury. “What do you mean you might not want me?  No!  No, you want me!”

The fat dorky guy to my right had buddied up to an equally plump dorky guy to his right.  It was obvious this was the biggest thing to happen to either one of these guys since they saw Richard Petty signing autographs at a Wal Mart.  They were so overstimulated and eager to be on the jury I don’t think either lawyer wanted any part of them.  At one point Fat Guy #1 leaned in to the defense attorney and asked “You don’t want him on the jury, right?” after a question was fielded by a prospective juror across the room.  The lawyer looked at him with a look of mild disbelief and wrote something on his legal pad.  It reminded me of when Travis Bickle asks the Secret Service guy questions in the movie "Taxi Driver".  Within moments, Fat Guy #1 had been dismissed. He was crushed.  He would now have to return to his life of farting into his sweatpants while watching TV on the couch.

The lawyers dismissed jurors back and forth using their five dismissals.  Someone was sent out because of a health concern.  The judge then started reading the numbers of the jurors.  I was in.  What?  The black lady was in.  Huh?  He told us to get up and take our new seats.  The woman had a stunned look on her face that said, “But you told me this wouldn’t happen…”  She had no idea that I didn’t know what I was talking about and only had said those things to calm her down.  We sat down in our seats in the box and suddenly I was part of the jury.  What madman had allowed this to happen?  As my brother later texted me, "They have text books about jury selection, but in none of those text books is there a chapter about someone like you."

Hey, whatever...  I'm here now.  Let's go!  It was show time.  We knew the case was criminal, but we had no idea of any of the specifics.  Was it a murder?  Had someone been kidnapped?  Perhaps there was some international intrigue…  It looked just like the movies.  This was really happening! Certainly if the case couldn’t be settled, it was going to be a real matter of import that we as citizens would have to wade through in what would probably become a landmark trial.  Then the opening statements began…

It turned out that Hillbilly #1 had been collecting “scrap” (aka “garbage”) in his sister’s vacant garage.  Hillbilly #2 (the defendant) and #3 decide they were going to load up a trailer with a bunch of the garbage and sell it presumably for drug money.  Hillbilly #1, very attached to his garbage, kept close watch on his sister’s vacant house and his garbage.  One day he drove up and discovered Hillbilly #2 and Hillbilly #3 loading up a flatbed trailer with his garbage.  His Garbage!  Hillbilly #1 calls 911 and leaves his car in the driveway blocking them in. 

Now if I was Hillbilly #2 or Hillbilly #3 I would have waited for the cops to come and threw some bullshit story out about how they were hired there to clean the garage and they didn’t know what this crazy old man was talking about.  (Hillbilly #1 that owned the garbage was 74 years old.)  Being hillbillies they, of course, make a hillbilly decision and begin to ram Hillbilly #1’s car with their truck in an attempt to move him out of the way.  When this doesn’t work, our defendant Hillbilly #2 gets out of the truck, picks up a 20 pound motor and throws it through the driver’s side window.  There is then some sort of tussle, Hillbilly #1 loses control of the phone in which he was talking to the 911 operator, and Hillbilly #3 somehow gets the truck at an angle so they can make their big escape across the lawn.  Hillbilly #2 jumps back in the truck and they drive away.

As there were literally tens of dollars at stake, Hillbilly #1 tears after them in hot pursuit with his shitty Buick leading the chase.  The 911 operator has him zero in on Hillbilly #2 and #3’s location which takes them into Elyria.  Hillbilly #2 and #3 pull into a convenient store parking lot, make a run for it and try to hide in some weeds.  They are, naturally, captured in about 13 seconds by the cops.  Police reports are filed and the garbage is presumably returned to Hillbilly #1.

The problem for our defendant is that Hillbilly #1 hurts his shoulder in all the excitement and has to get a rotator cuff surgery.  That means that instead of Hillbilly #2 being in trouble for breaking & entering, criminal tools, robbery, etc., he now is facing felony assault charges and aggravated assault charges.  There is a mountain of evidence against Hillbilly #2, and even the defense attorney says, “Look, my client is guilty of four of these charges.  He did it.  But he didn’t necessarily do the bad ones.” 

We spend the next two days watching the uptight little blond prosecutor become more uptight at the defense attorney.  He tries out an angle of that the old man’s shoulder was already hurt (which it probably was to some extent), but when you toss a motor through a car’s window while telling the car’s driver to “move the fucking car”, wrench on the old dude, and then the guy immediately gets admitted to the hospital overnight for shoulder pain, there isn’t much you can do.  Bam.  Suddenly you are going to jail for over 10 years for trying to steal garbage.  Way to go Hillbilly #2!

As I went back to the jury room to deliberate, ideas floated through my head.  I could have gone with two different approaches and needed to decide which way to proceed.  Approach one would have been “Overbearing Jury Foreman”.  As we have seen from countless TV shows and movies, the role of Overbearing Foreman would have required me to try to shove through a decision that made the other jurors uncomfortable.  I would have had to have trampled on other’s opinions, cut off discussions, and said things like “We all know he is guilty/innocent!  Let’s get this over with and go home!”.  The key to that is to completely intimidate the mousy people on the jury (there were at least six) and make them so unwilling to challenge your position they would vote your way on anything as long as you didn’t call them out in front of the group.  This is a role I could have easily fulfilled.  I do it almost daily at work anyway.  Plus I had already purposely secured the seat at the head of the table just in case I decided to go this route.

The other role would have required me to be the silent grumpy guy that makes a wild outburst after having said nothing for so long, the fact you are even speaking stuns everyone to silence.  Rhetoric should be focused on minutiae, and show little understanding of what is actually being discussed.  There should also be a tinge of paranoia to the whole thing.  For example, let’s say the group is discussing if there was enough evidence to support the defendant purposely tried to injure the victim.  That’s a great time to let loose with, “Well, no one ever asked me if I was going to get hurt when I went over to Viet Nam!  Now we are all concerned about rights?  Well I didn’t see any of you concerned about my rights when I got back from The Shit!”. 

I decided on role #2.

An Italian guy with maybe the largest jutting forehead I have ever seen from someone born after 50,000 B.C. was our foreman.  He seemed like a nice guy.  I am sticking with the fact that if you froze him in a block of ice with a loincloth and a spear, he would be the most important archaeological find of our time though.  You don’t see too many guys with that Cro-Magnon look these days, at least not in golf shirts.  He did his best to lead the group into an efficient decision after quick logical discussion. 

 The back and forth was focused on the legal sticking points of cause and intent with the mice being quiet, and the alpha males agreeing on his guilt.  I let that continue for quite some time.  Then I let loose suddenly and loudly with “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, who amongst us hasn’t lost their temper and thrown something through a car window?  Who amongst us hasn’t at least thought about it?  I put to you that this 74 year old man is nothing but a whiplash hustler!  Now don’t get me wrong…  I’m not condoning the acts of the defendant…  I am just asking for a little empathy.  Is he really guilty?  Let’s take a real close look here…”  That’s when almost everyone went crazy shouting about how guilty he was from top to bottom.  I let that go on for awhile as I appeared to thoughtfully consider the evidence.

I finally gave it up.  “Oh, I know he’s guilty.  I just wanted to play devil’s advocate and see if you guys got fired up.”  There was some nervous laughter, but mostly relief as people exchanged glances communicating how excited they were about finishing this thing up and probably getting me out of their lives.  We voted unanimously to find Hillbilly #2 guilty on all counts because he was guilty on all counts.  Sucks to be you man.

So now I walk tall, the unblinking eye of justice.  I am safe and secure in knowing that I have kept the garbage of Lorain County safe, and that abandoned house will continue to be overrun with trash.  Justice has been served.  

The system worked.   




At August 29, 2013 at 1:34:00 AM EDT , Blogger Walter Zoomie said...

I get a jury duty summons about every other year.

I've actually been called in for selection twice, but never got selected for duty.

I got another summons last week.

If my number is called this time, I plan on being so anti-everything that they wouldn't dare sit me on a jury...or ever summons me to do so again.

I will say one word:


That should do it.


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