Jury duty. Foolishly expected that, as usual, I would get in, not get selected, and get back to work. What unfolded instead could be called a comedy of errors, but that would be too charitable a description for the expanse of waste and idiocy (and yes, comedy) that I encountered today.
Update: I’ve added the end-game to this post.
8:30 a.m. – Arrive at Contra Costa County Courthouse in Richmond on bicycle. The only bicycle in a sea of cars. Airport-style screening – must remove belt, coins, phone, etc. each time I enter. X-Ray finds my Leatherman in backpack. “Leave it outside.” “Where?” “Anywhere. If you leave it with us we can’t give it back.” Return outside to stash tool in branches of a cypress.
9:00 a.m. – 48 potential jurors per case, 4 cases being heard, so 152 people. In an assembly room with 100 seats. Magazines for killing time, some are five years old. Intro speeches about civic pride, yadda yadda. Fill out forms. Watch video about the nobility of jury duty (I don’t disagree). Excused for 30 minute “break” (like we need one). One potential juror storms out: “I hate this sh*t!!!” He later turns out to be a retired cop. Another potential is wearing an Ozzy tee shirt, army boots, bald head, and a full beard extending up into sideburns that extend right above the top of his head into twin spires that curl over in waxed twirls 6″ above his scalp. Great look, a model citizen.
10:00 – Return to assembly room and wait, read newspaper.
10:30 – They slip a movie into the VCR – Harry and the Hendersons. What? It rolls for an hour. Try to close my ears, find that I lack the necessary earflaps. Forced to listen.
11:30 – Names are called, initial selectees file out to hall, are lead upstairs by a guide who explains to us that the courtroom we’re using is “partially double booked.” Enter courtroom, wait. Judge enters. White male clearly past retirement age. Has trouble reading all — and I do mean all – non-Anglo names on his printout. All Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, and African names are read phonetically, repeated incorrectly several times over because he can’t hear the person correcting him. Aside from pronunciation, he has trouble with the printout itself. In one case, the name “Hernandez” was split across two lines. First he calls “Francisco Hernannie.” After that mess is straightened out, he calls “Dez June Smith.” Hernane/Dez, get it? You think I’m making this up.
12:00 – Oops, lunchtime! All rise for recess. 90 minute lunch. Tell you what, judgie poo – how about we make it 30 and get this thing over with? Nope, 90 minutes — and guess what’s within walking distance? Church’s Fried Chicken and 7-11. Saddest lunch I’ve had in a long time.
1:30 – We’re back, how about opening the courtroom? Keep in mind, we haven’t yet begun the juror selection process. Bailiff to jurors: “I can’t find my cell phone. Has anyone seen my cell phone? It’s blue.”
2:00 – Back inside, we see the defendant. 50-yr-old man in untucked tee shirt, hair slicked back, leathery skin, red nose, looks like he’s spent half his life in bars. Juror selection begins. 10 questions for each potential juror in initial pool. Some b.s. about “getting to know you.” I’m not in the initial pool, but will be forced to watch the massacree. Some jurors can’t or won’t speak up. Judge suggests a wireless mic. Stenographer: “Uhhh… we’ll have to… adjust it.” Mic turned on, squelches and cramps voices, groans with feedback, buzzes and howls under the influence of heat. Finally they give up on the wireless, put it away, but they don’t turn off its channel. It continues to feed back for the next five minutes until the bailiff locates the switch.
Several weird statements from potentials on why they shouldn’t serve, including one Christian woman who said that her religion required the utmost in honesty and sincerity, and that she therefore would have trouble rendering a fair verdict. Hey whaaaatttt? Oh, wait, maybe she understands the system better than most. When the D.A. had his chance to ask additional questions, he queried her on this. One of his questions to her: “So you think your religious beliefs could cause you to look at this case with a slanted eye?” The woman in question was Asian. I swear I’m not making this stuff up.
3:00 – Me to bailiff: “Did you find your cell phone?” “Yeah, it was right in the patrol car where I left it.”
3:15 – Back in courthouse. Five potentials eliminated.
3:30 – Judge calls a 30-minute recess. This is insane, a colossal waste of time for 48 hapless individuals. If I could tell you what the case was about, it would seem an even more colossal waste of time.
4:00 – Five seats randomly filled from our pool. I’m not among them. The defense attorney questions the potentials, asking how many of them followed the Michael Jackson trial (puh-leeze!), making sure people understand that there’s a difference between drinking and driving and driving with a blood alcohol level over a certain percent. An 18-year-old potential responds “But drinking is bad for you.” “But you do understand that it’s legal to drink and drive as long as you’re not over the BAL limit?” “That would be dangerous.” He is dismissed.
4:30 – Court adjourned for the day. The jury pool has not been selected, and I am required to return tomorrow, just in case. I understand that jury selection is important. I don’t begrudge that. But since 2/3 of the day was wasted in bureaucracy, pointless waiting, and extended recesses, the selection could have been made by noon if the system was working. If the judge weren’t dottering. If the system were streamlined. If the microphone worked. Etc. etc.
9:00 a.m. – Showed up at the courthouse at 9 a.m. sharp, as requested. Sat on the linoleum floor of the hallway, reading for 45 minutes. Finally the court clerk came out and got our attention. “Don’t kill me, but we have to dismiss you until 1:30. Please go shopping or otherwise entertain yourselves until then. Dammit, this is SO disrespectful of our time. Well, I was able to get some work done from home for a while.
1:30 p.m. – Resumed session.
3:30 p.m. – Jury of 12 selected, I was never called. Would have loved to have had the opportunity to talk about how Matthew was killed by a drunk driver who was not in fact in excess of the blood alcohol limit, but never got that chance. Ooops – now it was time to select two alternates. Judge decided to fill all six of the potential seats, go through the whole questioning rigamarole. He could have selected two at a time to streamline this process, but nooooo…
4:00 — Alternates selected, we’re dismissed. So, two full days to select a jury for a very minor case. If I had had a chance to speak, I know very well I would have been summarily dismissed. But the system doesn’t allow for that. Back to work tomorrow, with a bitter taste in my mouth for the criminal justice system.
We are fortunate to have a system of trial by peers. But the blowback can be excruciating.