Lot’s of people tell me that they have never been called for jury duty but think it would be interesting. I used to think that. I just wrapped up a tour of jury duty. This was my fourth time being called for jury duty. My curiosity has been satisfied.
First, you report to what I like to call the juror-to-be holding pen. This tour of jury duty was in Superior Court. The holding pen was very large. You had to go through a very long line where they scanned your juror ID barcode and gave you a bio form to fill out. Then you were told to be seated and wait. Generally jury duty requires a lot of that.
Having been called three times before, I came prepared with my iPod and Blackberry to amuse me. But before I could amuse myself, television monitors scattered throughout the holding pen came to life and a video, explaining what it means to be a juror began playing. This is the same video they have played every time I’ve been a juror. It is narrated by Raymond Burr. Raymond Burr was the actor who played Perry Mason (a famous fictional lawyer that started out in mystery novels and worked his way into early black and white television). Raymond Burr also played Ironsides, a detective in a wheelchair. Raymond Burr has been dead for very many years.
When Raymond Burr began explaining the history of the American justice system, a fellow juror-to-be seated nearby called out, “Look, it’s Aaron Burr.” She seemed puzzled when I explained to her that Aaron Burr was the man who shot Alexander Hamilton and began questioning me as to why a murderer was narrating the juror video. I put on my iPod.
You see, there is a common denominator for most people who actually show up for jury duty. They are either retired, stupid or both. It is widely accepted that, if you are reasonably intelligent, you will figure out a way to get out of jury duty. I go out of a twisted sense of social responsibility and to get out of going to work for a few days.
As I settled into my chair to listen to my iPod, one of the herders of the jurors-to-be began giving instructions as to what our lives would be like for the next few days. She then announced that she would begin calling out names followed by a number, and that if your name was called, you should write the number on your bio form and hand it to one of the clerks. There would be 50 names called per courtroom and trial. I figured I was safe.
I was number three.
We were herded into elevators and up to the courtroom where I was immediately seated in the juror’s box as Juror Number 3. The judge seemed like a nice enough guy. He was a cross between Harry Anderson from Night Court and an age progressed Doogie Howser. He introduced the proceedings. This was to be a civil trial which meant we weren’t dealing with criminals, just citizens who disagreed over something.
To put the case in a nutshell, it was a guy suing another guy for damages sustained in a car accident back in 2000. The plaintiff (the guy filing the lawsuit) had torn the meniscus in his knee and had a gouge taken out of his articular cartilage after his car was struck and knocked off the road by the defendent's car. The defendent accepted responsibility for the accident. He just wasn't ready to take responsibility for the injuries, mainly because the plaintiff had waited so long to say he had them.
The trial basically involved much tedious testimony intended to show that the plaintiff's knee had indeed been injuried in the accident and prevented him from running, squatting, twisting and jumping. This was complicated more because, although the plaintiff was in his mid-60s (and wouldn't normally be expected to be doing much running, squatting, twisting and jumping anyway) he was an avid outdoors man and had done a great deal of hunting, hiking and fishing since the accident.
The plaintiff's attorneys spent a lot of time showing us family photos of the guy running, squatting, twisting and jumping before the accident and one shot of him after the accident just standing there. The defense attorney spent a lot of time asking about the plaintiff's hunting trips into the tundra of Alaska hunting caribou. There was even a few accusations that spending 11 days camping in Alaska while you shot big game would eventually necessitate squatting (unless you were pretty severely constipated).
The testimony finally ended and the final arguements wrapped up. Then came my least favorite part of being on a jury: deliberating. This is where you find that the Marine Corp-looking dude you thought wouldn't give a settlement to Mother Theresa let alone sympathize with a 60-something year old man with a bum knee wants to award him the maximum. And the pleasant retired grandmother wants to give him five years in the slammer even when you explain to her that this is not a criminal case and it is not one of the options.
Pretty soon we've divided up into our respective camps, those of us who sympathize with the man with the bad knee and those who don't like the fact that he drives an SUV and believe he doesn't need the money. Now being a career bureacrat skilled in the art of committees and meetings, I watch in mild amusement as these amateurs trip over each other trying to make their opinions heard above the din of the other bickering jurors. I'm not the lead juror, but I begin herding the cats towards coming to consensus.
What finally brings us to agreement is the bailiff's announcement that we will need to return another day if we haven't arrived at a decision by 4 p.m. Both camps give ground and we award him the medical expenses he's asked for plus an arbitrary $27,450 for the impact on his quality of life (don't ask me how we arrived at $27,450). With that we buzz the bailiff and thirty minutes later are ushered back into the courtroom to announce our verdict. Neither side seems impressed at the settlement. The plaintiff's attorneys have won, but their piece of the pie will be pretty pitiful compared to what they'd suggested their client's suffering was worth. The defense attorney hasn't changed her expression since the trial began and the verdict doesn't phase her.
The judge thanks us, gives us a "good citizen" certificate and we are ushered out. My fourth tour of jury duty is concluded without a bang, but a whisper.
And no, it's nothing like it seems on television.