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25 May 2006 @ 03:46 pm
my civic obligation  
Jury duty is not exciting. I waited a lot. There was a court officer there who looked like she was probably cool but this was her job so she was doing it. She was a stereotypical female officer and people reacted to her in a stereotypical way. When she told us to form a check-in line but not to block any doorway, arch, or stairway, the strangers around me said things like, "I'm just going to do what she says," or "I'm not arguing with HER." She was someone you wanted to get a smile out of. A former student of mine was also serving - we passed each other in the cattle line and exchanged the normal information that people exchange at such moments - he just finished his college semester and is going to work this summer as a lifeguard and at a convenience store. He asked me about my classes and if my students were treating me right, and I said yes, which is true. He asked if I had any crazy classes, and I said, none as crazy as yours was. That is also true. And then we said it was nice to see each other. He was on a different panel than I.

We sat in the courtroom after checking in. It was a very old courtroom - small, with big dark wooden benches, bookcases behind the judges' bench filled with legal journals, large portraits of former judges on the walls, coffee where I imagine the attorneys sat and also some coffee on the judge's bench, with styrofoam cups. I sat in the front row. There were two small laptops on the attorneys' desk area, and someone, I am guessing he was the court stenographer, came in and typed something on a computer on the other side of the desk, and it appeared on the little laptops. I leaned forward to read it, and it was just a list of names.

I went back to reading my New Yorker, which I had started while standing in the check-in line. The court officer came in and put on a video for us to watch. The video appeared to be from the 1980s - it was about juror service in Massachusetts and explained to us the trial process and what would be expected of us if we were chosen. The people in it wore really bad suits. After the video was over, the lady sitting next to me told me she liked my shoes. Then the court officer came in and told us we could leave but that we had to come back at noon. It was 9:00 and I had been there exactly one hour. I walked outside and called Alex and he came and got me (if I had left I surely would have lost my space) and we went to the bookstore where I read a little bit of Temple Grandin's book about animal behavior. There was one particularly scandalous section in it about artificially inseminating pigs, and how each male pig has "something special" he likes done before he will give his semen to the human collector. Animals are really not all that different from people.

Alex and I had lunch at the burrito place and then he brought me back to the courthouse. I went into the jurors' section, where they had three rooms you could sit in. Each room had a big wooden table in the center of it, for deliberation purposes I imagine. There were no seats left in the first room so I went into the second and sat down at the far end of the table near the windows, next to a woman who proved to be extremely annoying. She kept talking just for the sake of talking, to fill up empty space, (why are some people so afraid of quiet?) and these other three women at our end of the table kept encouraging her, like they thought she was nice or something, when really she was kind of a bitch. That is why I don't feel too bad in saying that she was also not very smart. At one point she kept complaining about a "hot flash" she was having, quite loudly, and then commented on "the interesting phase of life" she was going through while fanning herself with a magazine she had stolen from one of the other ladies. I felt a bit embarassed for her, talking about her menopause in front of an entire room of strangers who buried themselves a little bit further in their books everytime she spoke. I wished I had sat at the other end of the table, with the men, who were all reading quietly and sensibly and with no forced social pleasantries. Women are so weird sometimes - I don't understand them. Eventually the woman started playing an electronic Yahtzee game she had pulled out of her bag. I found this hilarious, but mostly I was glad for some quiet. A little after 1:00 they called us all back into the courtroom. In the waiting area before entering the room there were people who had been there for a trial. They were huddled together in groups, with their attorneys, speaking in hushed voices. Some were crying.

I was seated in the front row again. This time the judge was on the bench and there were other people around in the courtroom, and you could tell something had just taken place there - the room just felt different than it had when we were watching the video. When we were all seated the judge stood up and spoke to us. He told us the reason so many of us had been called in today: the morning's case had been a sexual abuse case, involving a child. The defendant had ended up pleading guilty, but if he hadn't plead guilty they would have needed a large pool of jurors to choose from, as many people would find it difficult to be un-biased in such a case. He thanked us and then we were dismissed.

I know I would not have been chosen for the jury if that case had gone to trial, based solely on my profession, and thank goodness for that. I would do my best, but I know I would have trouble remaining unbiased in that situation.

What scares me is the thought of the menopause Yahtzee woman on a jury.
 
 
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