COLUMN: Some people enjoy serving on juries, or so they say. Forgive me if I don’t believe them, unless these are people with nothing to do and/or who hate their job. For the rest of us, receiving a Summons for Jury Service is enough to ruin a good day. Still, there are considerations of civic responsibility, I told myself. And besides, maybe I could get a good column out of it.
Here in Los Angeles, we are mailed a Summons along with an 8-panel booklet entitled Information for First Time Jurors. In part it says, “Trial by jury is among America’s fundamental democratic principles.” Sounds good so far. There’s more: “Jury duty is often also a memorable, even a profound, experience.” Ooh, excitement is building.
Thoughts begin dancing in my head: delicious fantasies of righteousness and retribution, of our judicial system finally kicking into gear by arresting, arraigning, trying and sentencing Cheney and Bush for war crimes. I would gladly put a few months of my life on hold for something that noble, wonderful and worthy.
But that’s not happening. Not sure why, although a few things come to mind: failure of willpower, no guts, lack of shame, and reticence to perform national atonement are all possibilities.
Instead, the court wants me for one of their 6,000 yearly jury trials, most lasting less than a week. In other words, trials which do not serve a purpose as important as punishing the most corrupt, inept, debilitating, and disgusting administration in American history.
Also in the package was a self-addressed envelope for mailing something back to the Juror Service Division. What would we mail to them? Well, the top portion of the Summons contains a bar-coded juror badge and these directions: Detatch Here If Mailing (Only If Instructed). Right next to that is printed Return Lower Portion in the Envelope Provided. Sounds like you’ve now been instructed to detach and mail, right? And, conveniently, the form has been perforated, making it easy to tear off.
But wait! On the back of the Summons is this instruction: “Only mail this form if directed to do so after telephone registration.” Reminds me of the old joke about reading directions for defusing a bomb: “Cut the blue wire. But first…”
Okay, so I called. And entered my juror I.D. number. And my PIN number. You must do this every time you call. Plus, you must endure a recorded message about courthouse workers taking mandatory furlough on the third Wednesday of every month. Since I was not summoned during the week containing that day, it is a curious waste of time to have that message played for every single call.
Another recorded message (repeated every call) offers you the option of taking the juror orientation online, thus allowing you to report up to two hours later than called. Other than the marketing weasel words “up to. . .” this sounded like a good plan.
But wait! There is a teeny tiny caveat in the Information for First Time Jurors booklet: you must complete the online orientation prior to 4:00 p.m. of the Thursday before reporting for juror service. The summons arrived on Thursday with a reporting date the very next Monday. So, people would need to get their mail before the end of the day and read their booklet to process all the information and complete the one-hour orientation by four in the afternoon. Possible but highly unlikely, making this recorded message seem like another curious waste of time.
There were two other tidbits of information on the long series of recorded messages. The first is one of those “well, duh” moments, where they assure you that the Court will never ask for personal information so you shouldn’t give out your Social Security number to anyone who pretends to be affiliated with the Court. Good advice, I guess, but the whole thing kind of belies the fact that the Court is already intruding upon your life.
The second item would be funny if it weren’t so sad: it says that the Court is running low on funds and you must bring your own blue or black ink pen. Wow, Schwarzenegger really has gotten us into a fiscal quagmire. Apparently, the state of “Callyfornia,” as he insists on calling it, can only afford pens with red ink.
Part of the juror orientation involved watching a 20-minute video with staged scenes from various parts of “the juror experience,” which doesn’t make it seem as exciting as The Jimi Hendrix Experience or the girlfriend experience, or any other kind of human experience, come to think of it.
The video wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t very compelling. And, speaking as the head of a music publishing company, I was appalled to see no music credits at the end of the video.
At lunch, I wandered into the cafeteria and was surprised to see a mother and children in line outside a door at the back wall behind the tables and chairs. What was that all about, I wondered, so I wandered over to read the plaque by the door. “Domestic Violence Clinic,” it read. Yipes, great location.
Calling Out the Names
Several times during the day between 8:15 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., names were called for people to be examined in a courtroom to see if they would be put on a jury. My name was not among them. Seventy-five names were called until there were only about two dozen of us left. Then we were “released” and could go home.
Periodically throughout my 480-minute wait, I grabbed a spot at one of the seven computer workstations and posted my reactions to my Facebook page: “Tempted to watch ‘Twelve Angry Men’ just to see all the things I shouldn’t do at jury duty.” And “Trying to think of it as my opportunity to Vote Thumbs Down at the Warehouse of Doom and Vengeance.”
Some of my online friends were a bit snide in their replies. For example, here’s a comment that made me smile: “I’m dying to finally actually get picked for jury duty. I can’t wait for the defense lawyer to ask, ‘Is there anything that may prejudice you,’ so I can finally respond with, ‘No, none at all. I’m looking forward to this. After all, we wouldn’t be here if he weren’t guilty, you know?'” Funny! And very helpful advice! (Note to jury database honchos, that was from Devin Brennan, 4321 Main Street in Westchester.)
Deiter Johnson opined, “Doing jury duty is like going to K-Mart. You feel like the smartest and most handsome person there!” Again, ha-ha! And thanks, Deiter (who lives at 2468 State Street in Acton Park).
Mitchell Boxall provided a quote from Gregory House, M.D.: “They all lie.” Excellent observation, Mitchell! So glad we shared this moment! (Mitchell lives at 369 Elm Avenue in Santee.)
Enjoy your service to the community.