Last night, during the second presidential debate, I was reminded of the one of the things I like most about Obama; that is, his ability to motivate me to participate. He’ll talk about the Peace Corps or community service and and all I can think is, “where can I sign up?” Interesting, then, that my desire to participate in my country’s government has been put to the test today, at…yup, jury duty! And here’s how it’s gone:
I arrive at the criminal justice building downtown and get in the security line. The officers around the metal detector are already just slightly cranky, as though they’ve dealt with one idiot too many today, but…it’s 7:30. The police officers who direct me to the elevators are quite friendly, though. (I could have figured it out on my own – there are signs – but I’ll later realize that this is just the beginning of all the redundant instruction I’ll hear today.) In the elevator, I notice that there’s no 4th, 8th or 10th floor. Weird, eh? I wonder if they really don’t exist, or if they’re just super-secret floors closed to the public.
Although I’ve been more than punctual – we were told to be here at 7:45 am – not so for the jury supervisors, who just emerge from the locked room now. They’re not that late, but clearly I am cranky over getting up at 6 today. A man who I’ll call George asks us to get into a single file line, which prompts us to form a 4-to-5-person-wide clump clamoring to get into a room where we will wait some more. I am surprised that a hallway full of adults can’t handle the kindergarten skill of line-forming.
After an unexplained bout of silent waiting in the jury pool room, we are greeted by a Judge. I noticed a sign in the hallway for the courtroom of Judge Wapner (isn’t he on TV?), but this one’s not a TV judge. He welcomes us and tries to sell us on the merits of jury duty first with references to the founding fathers, and then with a list of celebrities who’ve recently served. The latter list proves the dual point that no one is exempt from jury duty, and that we’re in the good company of Jamie Lee Curtis, Ed Asner, Kurt Russell, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Sylvester Stallone. Only in Los Angeles.
We’re addressed by a a new jury supervisor – I’ll call him Fred, and then our buddy George is back again. Both of them go over some rather obvious instructions that we also have written in our jury summons and orientation papers. George reminds us not to talk to media, reminding us that all the “high-profile” trials happen here in downtown LA. This is probably no joke – I used to work downtown and once saw Mark Geragos coming out of my lunch spot. And there’s a friendly “I performed my jury service, have you?” poster on the wall featuring Lance Ito. I get a little chill pondering my possible placement on a murder trial. Lance smiles back nonchalantly at me. Once done with his speech, George gives us a morning break that we’ve earned with the hard work of sitting still for an hour and a half. We return from the break to sit still some more.
A panel of potential jurors has been called, but I am not among them. I’ve watched two videos now – one, a dramatized version of the Judge’s earlier speech about the merits of jury duty, and the second, a chamber-of-commerce type video exhorting the merits of downtown Los Angeles over the background of energetic horn music. Those are both done, and it’s back to me, my laptop, and the Vogue magazine I wish I hadn’t already read cover to cover. Must purchase more reading material on the lunch break.
After a lunch break and the calling of 3 more panels, my name still hasn’t been called. An announcement comes over the PA that jurors will now be called for a potential 30-day trial. I immediately start thinking about all the stuff I have going on in the next 30 days…and then I get a little panicked thinking about what kind of scary crime a 30-day trial would be for. I think about those O.J. trial jurors sitting in a room like this one. My heart is pounding while they call out the seemingly interminable list of names…but I am not called. Phew!
An hour later and all of us – the ones left – are free to go. I have to say, I hoped that I’d at least make a panel so I could see what the selection process was like, but I’m happy to get my next week (or month) back, and be done with my civil duties. That is, ’til next year…