Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Actual Jury Duty: Day 3

Showed up at the appointed time along with 55 other folks. From the number of guys in suits in the front of the courtroom, I knew right away that this was not going to be another case dismissal before the trial even started, as happened on Actual Jury Duty Day 1.

Roll was called, up yonder. I was there.

Bailiffs patrolled the courtroom, giving folks dirty looks when they tried to sit in the wrong section or, in one case, giving a dirty look and pointing to their own head when they wanted a potential juror to remove their ball cap. (Not me.)

Eventually, we stood for the judge's entrance. He was a jolly fellow, a bit Wilford Brimleyesque in appearance, who made jokes and seemed a decent sort. He was a visiting judge from two counties over, due to the fact that two of the regular Borderland judges had recused themselves as they both used to work in a law firm with one of the 18 lawyers for the defense.

The judge had the bailiff pass out 56 pieces of paper, one per potential juror, then reseated most of us on the other side of the courtroom in that order, while 13 of us (not me) were seated in the jury box. The judge gave some instructions to us and then asked about potential schedule conflicts any of us might have, such as doctor's appointments, that might occur during what could possibly be a three week trial. He noted each of our numbers and wrote all of this down for future reference.

That done, the prosecuting attorney began asking us general questions, such as if any of us knew any of the parties among the defense and prosecution, if we knew anything about the case at hand, if we had any strong feelings about the types of businesses involved in the case, etc. And, as I said, there were apparently 18 lawyers for the defense, as multiple companies and institutions were being sued. One by one, they each stood and asked similar questions of the entire jury pool.

Very quickly I came to realize that my odds of not serving on the jury were very low. At least half of the room knew the plaintiffs personally, or went to high school with the plaintiffs, or knew multiple parties among the defendants, or worked directly for the defendants, or frequently saw members of the 18-strong defense attorney team socially (which for one lady, it wasn't quite apparent at first what she meant by "socially," particularly after she noted, "Well, we have dinners together," but then it came out that she was actually talking about some sort of a dinner club where multiple families gather for grub), etc. It seemed that any shred of possible connection to either of these groups that anyone in the room had was plumbed and displayed for all. Yet, nearly everyone still claimed they'd be able to remain unbiased (except for the lady that worked directly for the defendants, who was shortly excused). I, on the other hand, didn't know anybody in the room, I don't read the papers, my ear is not to the ground, and up until two months ago I had spent the better part of a decade without access to local television channels of any kind cause I had Dish Network. In other words, I was the perfect juror; the intelligent guy who also has scads of time on his hands and a willingness to serve if called, who's still somehow managed to remain completely ignorant of local news and and untainted by public and editorial opinion on any given local issue. I was doomed.

By the time the q&a was over, we'd been there for nearly three hours, so the judge called a short weecess. (That's a recess to have a wee. My joke, not his--though, now that I read it again, maybe I should have given him the credit on that one.)

A brief digression on the subject of the public men's room of the Borderland County Courthouse: Holy shit, I've seen better facilities in prisons! In fact, show me any given episode of Lockup and I'll point out a dumper with more privacy. On first glance, I was confused by the restroom. Most public mensrooms consist of at least one toilet stall and a urinal, with variations on the number of each. What I was seeing, though, was one long room with no stalls at all and what looked to be two sinks followed by five urinals along one wall. And while there were technically some small barriers between the last two of the five urinals, they were basically pony walls. Seemed like it would have been more efficient if they'd just put in one long stadium trough, to me. I wondered if maybe there was a separate room elsewhere in the building for actual toilets. Then I wandered deeper into the room and saw that the two units with the pony walls actually were toilets, albeit ones without seats of any kind. There weren't even bolt holes where seats had once been fastened. Just pure white, prison-shitter-style porcelain. And the pony walls seemed to be there only to offer places to hang a single roll of toilet paper and a seat-cover dispenser. Anyone wishing to drop trou and have themselves a screamer would have to do it in front of God and everybody, their ass separated from the rim itself by a thin ring of waxed paper. To give the bathroom a little credit, it was pretty clean. However, other than the cleanliness factor, I'd say 95 percent of the bathrooms I encountered in Guatemalla and El Salvador were better than this one and that includes porta-potties!

Digression ended.

Once back in the courtroom, the judge then had all attorneys convene in chambers to hash out which members of the jury pool they definitely didn't want. And I'm pretty sure the defense had made a few enemies already, myself possibly included. One of the 18 defense attorneys had posed a seemingly hypothetical scenario in which jurors were asked if they would be willing to give a fair shake to a defendant whose actions were proven to be completely legal, though clearly unethical and unsavory. And he used specifics that seemed very much to reflect on HIS particular clients' situation. Someone among the jury pool pointed out that they were pretty sure there were laws on the books making the scenario presented definitely illegal, but the guy just threw up his hands as if to say, "I'm not commenting on that one," and then pointed at the judge, saying that the legality was for him to determine. Now, having not heard the actual case, I don't know for sure that his scenario was in fact the case, but from the sort of questions all the other lawyers were asking, it sure seemed to. One jury pool member told him flat out that he'd be unable to give a fair shake to such a defendant, legal or not.

Eventually they whittled down the jury pool from 56 to six members. (Which was not the number of jurors I was expecting, but apparently it's a current trend.) I was not among their number, but soon had a second chance when they needed two alternates. For this they chose two sets of five people each and then let the attorneys go off and have more hob nobbing over who they could agree on from those five. I wasn't initially among the first five, but one lady who'd been chosen had a schedule conflict, so my name was called to replace her. During the attorney conference on the five, the judge threatened to read their decision backward so that whoever was left at the end would be the one to serve. Instead, he just had the clerk read the "winner" as it were. Not me.

So we were released to our own devices and told to call the hotline again to see when we'd next be needed.

While I confess I was relieved, I am still willing to serve. Particularly since I found what little I could understand about the case itself to be pretty interesting. Sounded like one with lots of finger pointing in its future. (And 18 defense attorneys have a lot of fingers between them.) Maybe I'll have to try and keep up with the trial in the news. I can maybe get a few details on the local TV channels I now possess.

Which brings me to my next story...


chaniarts said...

i don't see a post for day 1 anywhere

Juice S. Aaron said...

Back on Jan 4.