Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jury of my sneers

Written today in real time via my phone's handy "MemoPad" feature...

8:15 Leaving the house for jury duty in downtown Brooklyn. Game plan is to say whatever the hell it takes to limit the obligation to today.

8:54 Am still on train, wondering--and kinda hoping--that jury duty is like detention: doors close and access denied after designated 8:45 arrival time. Of course, given that I've ignored every jury summons sent to me for the last 8 years, I'll probably be arrested when I finally get there.

9:00 After clearing security, I rush to the Central Jury Room to find that I probably could've stopped for that Dunkin Donuts coffee I'm now dying for. Nothing but a pre-recorded "Welcome" message playing on several TVs in a large room (similar to what I imagine most classrooms at the University of Florida are like).

9:15 "Welcome" message is mostly unconvincing "you're lucky to be here doing your civic duty as an American" stuff but ends with a threat that strikes home (as a person with anger management issues): "Wouldn't you want someone like you on YOUR jury if YOU were ever on trial?" Okay, so no fake epileptic seizure. I'll stay and get some work done.

9:30 Black guy with MC Hammer-type glasses comes out of side door to speak at large bench in front of room. As he goes down the list of do's and don'ts, I am busy trying to see if they're prescription glasses, at least.

9:39 First glance at phone for time check and Facebook status update. "Jennifer has finally been coerced into jury duty after being threatened with a bench warrant (geez). Why don't they do the same for people who don't vote?"

9:50 Still in the thick of the do's and don'ts of jury duty as read by MC Hammer (the carrot on the end of the stick being you get credit and don't have to come back for 8 whole years). Laptops are permitted but cell phone use is prohibited except in lobby area; however, I'm making an exception for my BlackBerry since it's technically a teeny tiny laptop with cool ringtones.

10:07 What's this bullshit about smokers being allowed to leave for 10 minutes at a time?! There's even a specific warning to us non-smokers that if we leave for 10 min and return with a coffee from Dunkin Donuts (is MC Hammer a mind reader, too?), we'll be marked absent and won't get credit for today. I'm tempted to ask, "what if I smoke a cigarette upon returning from Dunkin Donuts?"

Central Jury Room in downtown Brooklyn, where my ass sat like a good citizen for most of today. At right, smokers exercising the 10-minute reward the court allows them for having a bad habit. Isn't coffee considered a bad habit, too?!

10:30 Am happy to see several friends have already commented on my Facebook status. I'm struck by Jason Roeder's comment, "It's not that bad. I helped put a rapist in prison. Not bad for a Tuesday." I'm almost inspired to want to serve today. We'll see; it'll be a game-time decision.

10:35 Unsure if I'm free to email/text, I keep the BlackBerry held low in the purse at first, typing and scrolling on the sly like a kid cheating on a vocab quiz.

10:45 Am now brazen with the BlackBerry.

10:55 Man, I am REALLY productive when being held prisoner! I've already sent like 10 emails, all related to work! Mental note: Must have my Man lock me in the home office M-F, 9-5 from now on (with the threat of arrest if I fail to show up).

11:15 A quick glance at one of the TVs (now broadcasting CNN) shows that 1) Senate Democrats are going to approve Blagojevich's appointment despite vowing to block it just days ago; and 2) it's already 11:15! Woohoo! Only two hours til lunch break and, more importantly, that coffee from Dunkin Donuts.

11:20 Decide to start keeping notes for a blog about this, ya know, just in case it ends up being some profound, noteworthy experience. That and it's more interesting than the book I brought (The Great Bridge by David McCullough).

11:59 The girl sitting next to me is really pissing me off with her restless leg syndrome. Doesn't she realize that our chairs are attached like some juror chain gang?

12:01 Wow, this is really starting to feel like The Breakfast Club. Where's Judd Nelson when you need him?

12:10 I'm overcome with worry that my name was called and I didn't hear it because I was too focused on work or glaring angrily at the girl next to me (enough with the legs already!).

12:15 Some businessman just broke the imposed silence by talking very loudly on his cell phone. The entire room is now focused on him and collectively holding our breath until his phone gets confiscated. (They promised!) I feel a communal sense of outrage and longing for a time when cell phones were "car phones." Airplanes and jury holding tanks are now like the protected wetlands of Silence.

12:23 So hungry. Can't go on. Can't believe I haven't moved from this seat yet. Can't muster the energy to check out the juror "lounge" next door. Have resigned myself to eating the remains of a Greens+ protein bar. 40 minutes until lunch!

12:30 Still haven't been called. If they don't call me, do I still get credit for sitting here all day? MC Hammer didn't cover that in his speech earlier and now he's disappeared into that mysterious side door.

12:31 Why does this girl insist on torturing me by shaking her legs and thereby my chair? Wasn't I nice to her earlier when I politely suggested Cliff's Notes for the GRE (after noticing she had a study guide for it in hand)? Is this the thanks I get? And why haven't I moved if I'm so annoyed?

12:37 Yay! I've been called! Am now in a MUCH smaller room with two attorneys for a civil case. Am filling out a form that I think will definitely disqualify me. For instance, the last box under "Highest level of education" is "More than high school."

12:40 They just announced outside to the other jurors that they're breaking for lunch early. Everyone in my little room let out a collective groan (or, in Brooklyn's case, a collective sucking of one's teeth and shaking of the head as in "bitch, please"). Luckily, the two attorneys made an executive decision and are letting us go now, too! DD, here I come!

1:05 DD coffee in hand, I rush over to the Vitamin Shoppe to get my Man one of the 3,000 supplements he takes (such a devoted girlfriend to take 5 minutes of my 58-min lunch hour for him. Of course, I could've waited until after 5 when I'm free to run this errand). Luckily, I know Brooklyn Heights pretty well so I save time by making a beeline to my favorite sushi spot on Montague Street. Okay, so I've only been here twice before but it still qualifies as my "favorite" for today's purpose. I was tempted to go to the Chipotle across the street but know the result would be horrifying breath for the rest of the afternoon (that jury room is way too small for me to kick the funk like that).

1:29 Good news: the lunch special here is retardedly awesome (3 rolls for $9 including miso soup and salad). Bad news: eating 18 pieces of sushi really fast is really gross. I feel like I'm in the hot dog eating contest out in Coney Island.

1:30 After wolfing 15 pieces of sushi, have asked for check so I have enough time to get back to court and compose myself. How the hell do people manage to eat lunch in one hour?! Unemployment does have its benefits, I guess.

If I ever do end up on a jury, it's sad to think how easily I can be bribed: one extra large flavored coffee from Dunkin Donuts and more than an hour for lunch.

1:45 Back in the court house, going thru security. One of the guards asks, "Toy car blah blah bag?" Excuse me? "Do you have a toy car in your bag?" What?! I look at him incredulously. But before I can advise him to recalibrate the X-ray machine, I remember that I've got a Priority Mail box filled with Christmas presents in my bag. Yes, I'm a procrastinator who multitasks by schlepping packages to jury duty in the hopes that I will finally mail them.

1:50 Tragedy strikes! While struggling to layer the peed-on toilet seat with TP (Ladies: most of you lack the quads needed for proper hovering so please, until you're built otherwise, sit on the seat), my Burt's Bees lip balm drops from my coat pocket to the sticky bathroom floor and rolls behind the toilet. Must hose it with antibacterial lotion when I'm done!

1:53 Lip balm sanitized, I'm feeling adventurous after refreshing in the bathroom. Have decided to wait for 2 o'clock in one of the other juror holding pens (with windows, no less!). Wish I'd known about this room before. Would've saved myself some aggravation from the likes of Loser McLegs.

2:11 We're all back in the little jury room...except for the two attorneys (who apparently refuse to eat lunch like they're in a hot dog eating contest).

2:16 So, if neither of these attorneys comes back, do we still get credit for today?

2:20 Excitement! The guy sitting in front of me got up and started looking everywhere for something. Within seconds, nearby jurors were asking what he'd dropped. "An earring" Yawn. "A diamond earring." All at once, 4 of us stood up to help him search the floor and his belongings. Boredom and luxury items breed helpfulness, it seems.

2:27 Earring found (was stuck to the bottom of his shoe -- these floors are a testament to the power of dirt). Nearby female jurors offer earring-and-pony-tail-wearing man unsolicited advice about the best kind of earring backs and where to buy them. I fight the urge to offer advice about how men should never wear earrings and pony tails without Zubaz pants.

2:29 Attorneys arrive. No apology for delay except a bizarre diatribe on "new rules from Albany blah blah blah we used to be able to choose 10 people blah blah blah and then interview them while the rest of you sat patiently waiting to be excused but now we blah blah blah have to talk to all 21 of you before we can challenge you as a juror." In other words, get fucking comfortable.

2:35 Playing musical chairs in a room the size of my bathroom with 20 other people while the attorneys have us move to chairs they just assigned 1-21. On the way out to get the judge, a joke from the plaintiff's attorney: "Be right back with the judge and a complaint box."

2:44 The judge, who looks ripe enough for Century Village, comes in and advises us to cooperate, be fair and impartial. On the way out, he also suggests, "And don't get old."

2:46 Attorneys already arguing about the process (should we separate triplicate forms now or later? Ask questions to group or individually?). Collective groan. I take comfort in the little bit of Dunkin Donuts coffee I managed to save for later. Truth be told (and why not? I'm in a courthouse, after all), this is the worst DD coffee I've ever had. I wasn't expecting greatness, though; it's from one of those half-assed DD kiosks set up inside a KFC/Pizza Hut joint.

2:52 Attorneys now ready to question us...just as soon as they figure out the new process. Something about this being a civil case between a bicyclist and a driver who hit him. Bootleg DD coffee nearly finished.

3:05 There's gonna be a riot! The plaintiff's attorney is in love with the sound of his own voice. After mauling British/American history ("there was a war hundreds of years ago for your right to have a trial before a jury of your peers..."), the defendant's attorney interrupted and asked to speak with him outside. Meanwhile, an angry outburst erupted in the small room about "why is this asshole talking so much?" "Isn't this what the trial is for?" When the attorneys came back in, one young white woman in the back raised her hand and objected, "All of this seems tangential. We've been here an hour and you've yet to ask one of us a question. How long is this process going to take?" To which, the plaintiff's attorney answered, "this is going to take until tomorrow at the earliest" (collective "bitch, please!!"). Then, he asked to speak to HER outside. She was excused and came back to get her things saying, "Oh, snap!" which was odd for one who just used the word "tangential" so nicely. But, yo, I can relate.

A shot of the two attorneys doing what they seem to do best: haggling while we wait. In the foreground is Pony Tail Man, who briefly lost his earring, giving us something to do besides wait.

3:15 Attorneys are both outside--again--talking to another juror who managed to scream something objectionable in the short time we were all assembled in the room. I'm cracking jokes at the fast-growing outrage in the room. "Damn," I quip, "I should've told them I hit a bicyclist on the way here!" Collective laughter. "Where's that judge?" I demand. "From the looks of him, he couldn't have gotten far." More collective laughter.

3:30 Can't imagine why the plaintiff's attorney would want to pick any of us since we're clearly on the verge of forming a lynch mob. Is it any wonder that this case has been dragging on since 2004 if the jury pool is biased within the first hour of meeting the plaintiff's attorney? For the record: not a single potential juror has been asked a question in the 90 minutes since we returned from lunch.

3:45 Huzzah! After haggling outside with each other and another judge, the attorneys returned and we've all been dismissed from the case! Being openly hostile has its rewards! After high-fiving each other outside the juror fattening pen, we all wonder with wide-eyed fear, "what now?"

3:50 Back in the Central Jury Room, it seems a bond of friendship was formed by the hostage-like situation back in the little room. Several of us have opted to sit near each other in the larger room despite many open seats elsewhere. Like a Rainbow Coalition of disgruntled juror rejects, we formulate a new game plan as a team: ride out the remaining hour and 10 minutes, hoping to not get called for another case.

3:54 I'm thinking about what the word "impaneling" might mean (it's plastered all over the place and keeps getting announced in conjunction with random names). Can this word be used as an adverb to describe home decorating circa 1972?

3:55 A ray of Sunshine! No, really, Nancy Sunshine, Kings County Clerk, just announced that those of us who haven't been picked yet are being excused! All we have to do is wait for our name to be called to receive our certificate of completion. Now, time for the juror graduation ceremony! Am suppressing the urge to hum "Pomp and Circumstance" and congratulate fellow jurors on making it through the day without being selected.

Nancy Sunshine, clerk of Kings County, living up to her name.

4:10 A graduate of jury duty steps out into the cold, grey winter day, praising the Almighty with, "Free at last, free at last!" Spotted: Nancy Sunshine at the door, thanking each of us as we raced for the nearest exit. I thought to tell her about the jacked-up questioning process and terrible experience we'd just had but then remembered, "Free at last!" and "I don't care!"

4:20 Now in line at the post office next door to mail the long-delayed Christmas presents. Was thinking about how I basically bitched and moaned my way out of jury duty, worrying that perhaps I've cheated my state and country in the process. Am also feeling sorta guilty about my part in inciting the near-riot (and then smiling coyly when the attorneys returned to find torches and pitchforks).

4:40 Waiting for the train home, my mood lightens when I think of all the work I managed to do while fulfilling my civic responsibility. I'm especially comforted by the thought that it will be at least 8 years before I'm called again for jury duty. Here's hoping that plaintiff's attorney manages to select a jury before then!

Closing argument: If you don't want to serve on a jury, you can safely ignore all summons for about 8 years. After you've exhausted time and at least one allowed postponement request, show up very annoyed and be vociferously hostile. Justice may be blind but she ain't deaf.

A parting sneer on the way out of the courthouse.


Kim said...

Damn jury duty. In LA - I had to be DOWNTOWN at 7:45 am. And, that also meant parking 15 minutes away and walking.
And then was stuck - in that room - there sitting and sitting and not going anywhere til they released us @420 (ironic>?!)
Prime time to be released and then sit in 90 minutes of traffic back home. Oh yeah.
(we did get a 90 minute lunch unless ur sushi inhale fest)

Punkapoo said...

Damn, that sucks, Kim -- and I thought I had it bad here in NYC. At least they tried to make up for some of the torture with a 90-min lunch hour. How long before you can be called again? In South FL, it was like 1 year but with 9 million other people to harrass in NYC, it's 8 years! Woohoo!