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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Talk Thursday: Jury Duty.

Yep, it's happened again.  Just when I thought it was safe to open the mailbox.  Cute little white window envelope with a bright orange formy thing inside.  You (yes, you) have been summoned for jury duty.  Oh, for the love of--justice.  I was only down there a couple months ago.  I should be exempt for a while.  Unfortunately, I was down at the municipal Court and this here summons is from the district Court.  The district Criminal Court, in point of fact.  Whole different building and everything.  So it doesn't matter how recently I was down there.  I still have to go.  Unless, of course, I get a postponement.  My boss told me to ask because he's so busy right now, so I'll have to figure out how and hope I get one.  I don't know if they're automatic or if they just give you one if your law firm's donated to the Presiding Judge's re-election campaign recently.

Supposedly, this selection of jurors is random.  It goes by driver's license or voter registration or some other equally arcane set of numbers that I know nothing about.  Considering how many times I've been summoned, I'm a little suspicious, but then again, it sort of has to be random, doesn't it?  They can't be summoning me on purpose.  There's no way any attorney in his or her right mind would ever let me anywhere near an actual courtroom.

Yes, let it be known that people who actually know stuff about the law are generally Not Welcome on juries.  I mean, it happens, but not very often and not to anyone I've ever known.  In my case it's even less likely.  Not only do I know way too much about things legal, I'm also a wiseass.  Example from my last time on voir dire:  Q: "You work for a law firm?" A. "Yes, sir." Q. "And what do you do during the trial?"  A. "I watch the jury and try to guess what they're thinking."  True, dat.  But attorneys tend not to like it for some reason. Can't imagine why.

The first time I was ever summoned for jury duty, I was--hmm, let me see--seventeen years old.  I was all excited, thinking I got the day off from school to see how things worked in the Real World.  Then I found out you aren't eligible until you turn eighteen.  Imagine my disappointment.  I had to wait another eight years and two states to get summoned again.  I walked into the first courtroom and there uponst the bench sat one of my karate students.  (Yes, I used to be a karate instructor.  Well, sort of.  I was one level below brown belt, which meant I was somehow qualified to teach everybody who was one level below purple belt on down.  The judge was below purple belt.  I won't say how far.)  I waved at him and said, "Good morning, Mr. Burns."  He waved back and said, "Good morning, Ms. J----.  You can go."  And out the door I went.

(Just to make this doubly spooky, Joan ended up on a jury in the same courtroom with the same judge, and had to tell the bailiff that she lived with the woman who was once a karate student/sometime instructor at the same school.  The judge decided this wasn't a problem, but it must have been interesting to watch everybody trying to connect the dots.)

My next stab at penetrating the judiciary came while I was working for the Feds.  A day off to do anything was pretty darn cool, since we were working so many hours, and I got full pay for the day no matter when they turned me loose. Surprise!  I didn't get turned loose until 7:30 that evening.  It was a regulatory action, State vs. Somebody Or Other on charges of violating health codes or something like that.  Since I know almost nothing about this particular type of law, I had this fond hope that I might have a shot at jurorhood.  It was a fond, faint hope.  The state's attorney found increasingly creative ways to ask the same question over and over again using different words.  Around and around the room we went, with juror after juror answering variations on the theme of "just because you don't agree with the law doesn't mean you don't have to obey it".  About the third round I got fed up and said, "Objection.  Asked and answered."  The state's attorney turned and looked right at me, which was the first sign that I'd accidentally used my out-loud voice.  Oops.  Well, so much for getting on this jury.

But the defense attorney wasn't going to let me go so easily.  He must have been using me as a ringer.  ("Well, if you get her, then we get her.")  The bailiff kept calling groups of people back into the courtroom, and he always called me.  Every time.  More variations on the same question. Back into the hallway.  Sit and wait.  Then back into the jury box.  By seven in the evening everybody was ready to mutiny.  I couldn't believe I could last this long and not make it onto the panel, but when they finally rattled off the numbers of the jurors they wanted, mine wasn't among them.  And so, tired and cranky and dizzy with hunger, I plodded off toward the parking garage with the other rejects. It wasn't going well for the state of Texas, though.  One of the other jurors leaned over and said to me, "If the State loses this case, it's going to be because their lawyer pissed everybody off."

I've only been in the Criminal Court building one time, and that was for a sentencing hearing that I really didn't want to go to but kind of had to because I knew the victim's mother and somebody had to be there when she took the stand.  I took notes the whole time because, uh, I'm a paralegal and I don't know how to sit in a courtroom and not take notes.  It was ghastly.  Maybe things have gotten better since then?  Maybe if you're not there for a murder trial, it's just an ordinary courthouse?  One can always hope.  I don't know anything about criminal law, either.  So maybe I have a shot.  Just not until February, or at least that's what I'm requesting in my postponement. Remind me not to say "Objection. Asked and answered." this time.

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