I get summoned for jury duty approximately every couple years, and whether selected for a case or not, I usually end up with an interesting story or two. One time for a criminal case, some disheveled-looking fellow was excused by the judge even before he could sit down. He was wearing a t-shirt that said “F*** THE POLICE!” on the front, with an image on the back of a policeman beating a man. I would have held him in contempt. Curiously, my own t-shirt exclaiming “I DO NOT END SENTENCES IN PREPOSITIONS” on the front, along with a picture on the back of Mark Twain eating a bowl of kasha, did not generate the same judicial reaction. I received my most current jury summons a few weeks ago, and this is my tale.
Last Tuesday Morning (I did not need to go in on Monday.)
Upon arriving at the Superior Court of California in Santa Monica at about 9 AM, after removing my belt and the contents of my pockets, the metal in my body from various repairs and replacements delayed my passage through the ‘portal to justice.’ So I got the personal wand treatment. Successfully making it through security without my pants falling down to my ankles (which nearly happened once at an airport) and after checking in at the 3rd floor Jury Assembly Room, I took a seat. Luckily, because I brought my laptop and the courthouse had Wi-Fi, I was able to begin my next column for you, my faithful readers, and I was also able to hear and read the news. Here goes, as real time as I can do it.
9:15 AM Looking around the room, there appear to be about 100 people. On one of the walls are pictures of celebrities who had done jury duty. Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos, Ed Asner, Weird Al Yankovic, Judge Lance Ito and others. Ito, by the way, was the jurist who presided over the OJ Simpson criminal trial in the 1990’s, and who very ably showed how not to preside over criminal trials. In any decade.
Time for some news. Lets’ see, lots of Scots want their country to leave the UK. Hell, I want to leave the UK and I am not even in the UK. The referendum is on Thursday. Adrian Peterson denied he abused another of his kids. And big surprise, he will play this Sunday. Nice.
10:50 AM The judge comes in and announces the case, a civil one, may take 4 to 6 weeks. He adds that those who wish to claim a hardship should go to his courtroom on the second floor. Those not claiming a hardship would need to fill out a questionnaire and return at 1:30 the next day in front of his court. Most took the hardship route. I did not, filled out the questionnaire, handed it in and then headed home.
1:45 PM Because of delays, the judge’s clerk sends us upstairs.
2:45 PM I see the Vikings changed their minds. Adrian Peterson will not be allowed to play. I guess he abused one too many of his kids. The NFL’s players’ union says it will appeal Ray Rice’s suspension. I guess he hadn’t beaten enough women unconscious. Joe Biden apologized for calling some lenders “shylocks” the day before. Then only a few hours later, he added a couple more gaffes to his never-ending pile of verbal mishigas. I so hope he runs for president.
3:30 PM We are told to be back at 1:30 the next day and sent home. One elevator had already been down and now the second is not working. Rather than descend to the floors below, it just closes and opens. We wait 15 minutes for an officer who then escorts us through the alarmed emergency stairway exit door and down the stairs.
1:10 PM The second elevator is working and I am back in the assembly room.
Back to the news. The US Census Bureau says that the nation’s marriage rate is the lowest since 1920. As of of 2013, only 50.3% of Americans 18 and up are currently married. (I am single myself. Any ladies interested? I practice excellent hygiene. Most of the time.) A new report claims that nearly 10% of Americans are showing up to work while high on marijuana. I have never done pot or any illegal drugs, even in college. I do take potato chips intravenously. Yesterday John Kerry chastised and educated the Code Pink demonstrators seated behind him as he testified before the Senate. Good for him.
3:40 PM The assembly room clerk’s voice comes over the loudspeaker and she begs for mercy as she sends us home. “Can I have your attention? Now please don’t kill the messenger. You can all leave, but you need to be back here tomorrow morning at 9:30.” The elevator fails again, and again we are escorted down the stairs.
9:00 AM Back in the assembly room. Scotland said no. One less anti-Israel country entering in the world. Mazal tov. I strike up a nice chat with a gentleman sitting next to me.
9:50 AM We are all asked to go to the courtroom, and when hearing the roll call, I find out that the man with whom I had been speaking a few minutes before had a unique and historically-Jewish last name. He tells me that indeed, he is a direct descendant of a very famous and respected rabbi of the latter Middle Ages. Wow. We are numbered and lined up before we enter, and I am near the very end of the group. The first 18 are impaneled and the proceedings begin. The judge briefly explains the case. It’s about a man who had gotten mesothelioma from asbestos, versus the owner of the property on which the factory that allegedly caused the illness was located. Only the three alternate jurors are needed.
The panel includes among others, several engineers, a screenwriter, a TV executive, a retiree and a couple lawyers. The screenwriter gives a few funny answers and I appreciate that. But he also says more than once, that his bias against the defendant (the corporation) was so strong that he would not follow the law and he would even punish the defendant regardless of the facts of the case. That, I did not appreciate.
Others are forceful and outspoken as well in explaining their inability to be impartial, such as a woman who raises her hand every so often to add yet another reason why she could not be fair, causing laughter the last time, and one particularly outspoken middle-aged man who had earlier said he was a professor. More like a communist. In answer to counsel inquiries, he makes an irrelevant point to condemn the Koch brothers, pronouncing the name Koch in an offensive manner no doubt on purpose, condemns capitalism, and among other silly things, says that people don’t have a God-given right to own property. Uh-huh. “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as long as it does not include Property Ownership.”
With the questioning done, after a sidebar with the attorneys, the judge excuses nearly half the panel, including Gilligan, the Professor and Mary Ann. Big shock. Being there are enough members left for the alternate jurors, everyone else is released as well. The “conscientious objectors” might have just been trying to get out of their civic duty, but I think the more zealous of the biased actually meant what they said, heaven help us all. It’s now over.
After receiving our official release by the clerk of the assembly room, we saw that once again, that second elevator was not working. No kidding. So about 10 of us, not willing to wait for an official escort, headed for the stairs, opened the door, setting off the alarm, and made our way down to the building exit. The sun felt good.
I apologize for not having an interesting case about which to write, and had I been a juror, once the case had ended, I would have regaled you with a colorfully descriptive blow-by-blow, along with jury room deliberations and fireworks. Maybe next time.
So there you have it. Democracy in action. Ours isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system there is, and I am damn glad to be a part of it, broken elevators and all.
Finally, Shana Tova, and may we all have a happy, healthy and prosperous 5775. See you next year.