Sunday, March 6, 2011

Civic duty

This is what I did on Friday. I do not think anyone is really interested, but I have this desperate need to justify those interminable hours on the third floor of the county courthouse.
But first: before I left the house, an ungrateful chicken escaped the lovely henhouse while the intrepid CSB was letting them into their yard and giving them their breakfast treats. She headed for the hills, the woods, freedom and Broadway, and despite our calling, lurching, beseeching and beckoning, despite my very appealing plaid (Black Watch) pajamas, she would not be caught.
Did she realize how vulnerable she is to the world and its predators? Did she realize there is a red-tailed hawk out there polishing his curved beak in anticipation of chicken tartar for lunch?

I drive to the county courthouse to report for Day #2 of Jury Duty. Thus far, I am one of 90+ citizens who answered the summons and now sit on hard wooden benches while the judge and attorneys execute voir dire. If voir dire takes this long for a piddling drug case, then I tremble to think what transpires in a big case.
I park beneath the White Plains library and put lots of change into a parking meter. Then I realize that this is a 1-hour meter and I need to park in a 12-hour meter spots, so I bid adieu to those swallowed quarters and move my car far into the bowels of the parking lot, and feed every last bit of change I have into the meter, until I finally buy myself 71/2 hours of parking.
Inside the courthouse I pay 75¢ for hot water, so I can make a cup o’ tea. The clerk is blind and has several earrings. He never smiles.
At 9:35 we file in and take our seats in courtroom #304. The bailiff with a chevron mustache takes roll call, in random order. We all respond to our garbled names, and then we wait. I do the Friday crossword, but struggle with the city on the Niagara Escarpment, because I have never heard of the Niagara Escarpment,** though it seems like a place I might want to visit.
There are 18 potential jurors seated in the juror box on the left. They are the ones being questioned, for now. The rest of us watch, listen, surreptitiously text, and do the crossword.
At 10:10 we all get up and go into the hall to wait.
At 10:30 we return to the courtroom.
The judge* picks up where he stopped yesterday, with questions 10 – 15 on the juror questionnaire. He takes every opportunity to repeat, verbatim, his exhortation that the chosen jurors must interpret the law according to his diktat, and not consult with one’s brother-in-law the attorney, or base a judgment on the character of one’s former husband the Yonkers policeman. Can you do that? He asks, again and again. When the answer is, I think so, or I will try, the judge repeats his question until he gets the desired answer. I find this technique fondly reminiscent of my son’s 5-year old belief that if he repeated his request enough times, I would change my answer to the affirmative.
The Assistant DA, who will prosecute the case, asks of the empaneled 18: You all have common sense, don’t you? Can you use your common sense? To my chagrin, no one answers with a resounding no.
11:00 we all file out of the courtroom for a 5-minute recess.
11:15 we all file back into the courtroom. The Asst. DA continues his questioning with these zingers: Can you be fair? Do you understand the concept of reasonable doubt, which has been explained no less than 8 times this morning? Again, sadly, no one answers no.

11:40 we all file out again.
11:55 the gum-chewing policewoman calls us all back into the courtroom.
The mustachioed bailiff calls out the 5 lucky chosen jurors. The liberated 13 skip out of the courtroom.
The bailiff spins his bingo basket and calls out 18 more names. But not mine. The 18 take their places in the jury box. Now, as we have done with the previous 2 batches of 18, we hear their vital statistics as they respond to questions 1 through 9 on the juror questionnaire. I now know the name, birthplace, education, marital status, occupation, number of children and the ages and whereabouts of those children, of 54 fellow citizens. I also know who among them has been the victim of, or witness to, or party to, a crime; I know which of their close relatives or friends, and in some cases, their not very close relatives or friends, has been a victim of a crime. I know about the pediatrician whose identity was stolen. I know about the mother–of-3 from Bedford who was sexually assaulted as a teenager. I heard from the young man who was attacked because of his race. When prodded, one woman says that yes, her best friend was murdered, but that was in Bulgaria. Does a murder in Bulgaria count? In this courtroom, of course it does, and please give us details. One fellow, a sales manager, was at his best friend’s apartment when there was a drug bust. I heard about the young woman’s ex-boyfriend who is in jail now on drug charges. The judge remarks on the wisdom of this fellow being an ex. He laughs at his own humor. Another upright soul asserts that he was arrested years ago for unlawful possession of marijuana, “for which I am not ashamed”, he says. Thereby assuring that he will not be gracing this jury. We hear the complicated story of a woman’s brother in Texas whose neighbor shot a bow and arrow into his house and pierced his refrigerator. Charges were not filed, because they were all good friends.

I wonder how the chickens are enjoying this fine weather, as I am not. For the sake of the escapee, I am grateful it is not as cold as yesterday.

12:50 we break for lunch. We are enjoined to return promptly at 2:15
I go to the local diner and read the paper. It too is full of crime. There is the Russian mobster who was convicted of killing and chopping up people in order to steal their identities. Their body parts were found in a New Jersey Nature preserve.
A 57-year-old mother stabbed her 38-year-old son to death. He had cerebral palsy. I pay special attention to their ages, as her age is close to mine, but she bred at a much earlier age, 19 to be exact.
A Russian citizen, who is in prison on arms-dealing charges, has filed complaints because he cannot get a proper vegetarian diet in prison. His wife says he is forced to survive on eggs and tea made with tepid tap water.
A long Island man who murdered a motivational speaker claims that the man hired him to “do a Kevorkian”.
It is a very nice diner, with actual jukeboxes in every booth. I would play some Neil Sedaka, but all my small change was fed into the maw of the parking meter underground.
I worry about the AWOL chicken back home. Has she been eviscerated by a hawk? Is she quaking with fear underneath the back porch? Or is she roosting in an adjacent tree mocking her sisters?

2:15 the jury pool are milling around the hallway outside courtroom #304.
2:35 we are called back in.
The judge continues questioning the 18 empaneled. He is on Question #13: Are you or is anyone related to you an attorney, a policeman or in the military?
We learn whose father, brother, nephew, cousin is an attorney and what kind of attorney they are. We learn who is related to a detective in the NYPD and what kind of cases he works on: mostly drugs.
Question #14 is: Do you have any moral or religious reason that would prevent you from passing judgment in this courtroom?
No one answers yes. My hopes are dashed, yet again.
Question #15: Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Yes, I am scheduled for a root canal and I really don’t want to miss the appointment, says empanelled person #7. Judge repeats for the 4th time today his parable – of which he is so clearly proud – of how, if the world continued to function after the assassination of JFK, then surely the world will continue to function while person X performs his civic duty, completely missing the point that person #7 apparently would rather get a root canal than stay in this judge’s courtroom. Juror #14 explains that she is scheduled to go a business trip first thing Monday morning. The judge repeats his parable in full.
No one expresses concern about her chickens running amok in her absence, but that is what I am worried about.
2:55 we all exit the courtroom while the judge speaks privately with the jurors who are unwilling (wisely in my opinion) to share their traumatic life experiences with a roomful of strangers.

I could be chasing a chicken now. Instead I am pacing the third floor hallway, counting my steps. No I am not OCD.

3:30 we all return to the courtroom and sit while the Asst. DA and defense attorney repeat their earlier performances.
4:00 exeunt omnes.
4:45 we all enter the courtroom. The names of the 5 chosen jurors are called. The magic number of 12 plus 2 alternates has been achieved. The rest are dismissed. The relief is palpable. Those friendships forged in the waiting outside courtroom #304 disappear like contrails.

*This judge, in his why-we-should-all-be grateful-to-serve on-a-jury-in-this-great country spiel, informed us that we – the assembled Westchester-ites - were not in Libya or Bahrain this week, but instead were rolling out of bed and heading to our yoga classes, and aren't we the lucky ones? This was addressed to a group of 90+ people that included old and young men and women, medical salesmen, contractors, nurses, a neuro- physicist, retired FBI agents, a somewhat humorous writer, landscapers, and high-school cafeteria workers, among others. I later discovered that I was not the only one insulted and not a little outraged by his condescending and completely inapt generalizations.

**Hamilton, Ontario.


Rebecca Rice said...

This has got to be one of your all-time funniest if Kafka were being done over by Monty Python. I laughed so hard I thought I would wake up my landlord in the adjacent duplex!

I'm glad you didn't get selected, but sorry as well because then we don't get to read about your hilarious rendition of the trial on your blog!

Diggitt said...

** Only a little bitty part of the Niagara Escarpment is in Hamilton, although there are more than a hundred waterfalls over the Escarpment in Hamilton alone. Here's a map of it although most of it south of mid-Wisconsin is way underground.

Last summer we spent about a month hiking and camping along the Escarpment -- really a very, very special trip.

For a brief taste of it, you can go to Letchworth State Park where the Falls of the Genesee are located.

I would have blogged endlessly about it, but my backpack was stolen and it contained all of the SD cards from the trip.