12.02.2004

Unfit for civic duty (part the first)

So a month or so ago I got an intimidating-looking summons from the State of California inviting me to join the Justice Squad. Jury duty, baby! I've never had the pleasure before. The jury reporting system here is designed so that you don't actually have to speak to any humans before you show up - it's an automated system that requires you to call in once a day when you're "on-call" to see if they'll need you the next day. I got the all-clear on Sunday but Monday night the robot told me I had to show up at 7:45 AM Tuesday. Which is a little early to be all the way downtown or in fact anywhere except in bed, lunging toward the alarm clock with the preternatural speed of a thousand cheetahs. But there I was anyway. Let me just say at this point that I have absolutely nothing against jury duty. I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy it but it'll at least be interesting, and it's a duty. I believe that pretty strongly and I'm fond of moments where citizens have to put their money where their mouth is, societally speaking. Tuesday morning was boring - filling out a quick form and handing it in, putting on my jury badge, playing solitaire on my cell phone. I manage to dodge the first call for a jury panel but when the second comes, at about 11:30, my number is up. We're told to report back to a specific courtroom... at 1:45. Which means it's time for a loooooong lunch. I wander around downtown for a while and still show up way too early at the courtroom. Everyone has to wait outside for way too long - it's a quarter to three or so by the time they finally let us in. The judge apologizes for the wait, which is nice of him, and they proceed to call out a long series of juror numbers. I get called for the alternate section, which is a little closer to seated than I'd like to be. Especially when I find out it's an allegedly gang-related murder case with a Hispanic defendant. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about gangs and prison gangs when I worked on a prison-related documentary a couple of years back. The new system here does a decent job of protecting juror's identities, so I'm not scared. Though my wife would probably beg to differ. The next hour and a quarter is filled out with potential jurors answering general questions about background, etc - whether we've ever had a negative experience with a police officer, whether we know any gang members, and so on. I answer everything honestly and in as straightforward a fashion as possible. At four o'clock we have eliminated exactly one potential juror and break for the night. Hot courtroom action is scheduled to begin again at 10:30 AM Wednesday.

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