Jury The First (#118)

IMG_6422I heard people bitch and moan about jury duty my entire life:

“You have to drive all the way downtown! In rush hour!”

“Three months on a capital case! Sequestered. Ended in the jury hung and me damned near divorced!”

“You know what’s crazy? Entrusting your life to twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty!”

But when that summons for jury duty first appeared in my mailbox, I was thrilled. Maybe the courtroom has a certain mystique thanks to all the lawyers in my family – finally I, too, would see behind the judicial curtain. Maybe because it meant I was a real adult. Maybe because I was sure some poor defendant somewhere needed my brilliance to save him from eleven other jurors’ stupidity.

Pretty sure it was that last one. I was just out of grad school, employed part-time, and I might have been able to get excused from jury duty. I went anyway.

For those not familiar with jury duty, it goes like this. The night before you are due to report, you call the LA County juror hotline. A recorded message tells you if you have to show up the following day.

I had to report.

So did another hundred potential jurors. We reported to the jury room in our assigned courthouse.

Helpful hint #1: if you’re smart, you will watch the online video “How Jurors Should Behave” the week before you’re due to report. If you watch it, you get to report a few hours later than other jurors, which means you can a) sleep in, and b) miss the worst of rush hour.

If you don’t watch online, you’ll have to see the Monday morning 8 AM showing of  “How Jurors Should Behave” that the smart jurors “saw” online while playing Words With Friends. The video includes the following instructions:

  1. Do not wear any risqué clothing. (No chest cleavage or butt cleavage or shorts.)
  2. Do not wear a shirt with a slogan. If you think wearing a “Black Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” t-shirt will get you out of jury duty, forget it. You’ll just have to report back another day without expressing your right to free speech.
  3. Ignore all lawyers in the halls and elevators lest you compromise a case by holding an elevator for a hot prosecutor. Someone will notice and scream bias. For once you can let the elevator close on others without guilt.
  4. Don’t fake an emergency or illness. This will only result in postponement of jury service. If you haven’t submitted a written excuse and been approved in advance, there is no escape.

IMG_6419After the How Jurors Behave video, you signal affidavit swearing you’re a legal citizen of the United States. The jury room supervisors give everyone plastic juror badge holders that jurors have to wear at all times. The badge helps lawyers know not to talk shop while in the elevator with you.

Then you sit in the jury room. And wait. Sometimes all day, with a TWO HOUR lunch break. Yes, two hours. This is why the wheels of justice grind slowly.

In Los Angeles, if you don’t get sent to a courtroom by the end of the day, your service is over.

I got sent to a courtroom on my first day.

In the courtroom, a whole other of level of tedium awaited me.

12 jurors were called – by our juror numbers, because we were now anonymous for our own protection – into the jury box. Once in the box, jurors are known by our seat numbers. Since I was in the top row, fourth seat from the left, I was Juror #4.

The judge pointed to a list of questions on the wall of the courtroom and told the jurors to be ready with the answers. When called on, each juror was supposed to state where they lived, if they had served on a jury before, their type of employment, their significant other’s employment, and their children’s employment. If they had a relative who was a police officer or a lawyer, the judge asked if that juror could be impartial and not discuss the case with a lawyer/ police officer friend.

Doesn’t sound like it would take that long, does it? It wouldn’t, if everyone prized efficiency the way I do.

This was my response: “I’m from Los Angeles, I’m work part-time in the entertainment industry, I’m not married, I have no children or significant other, I’ve never served on a jury, I don’t know any police officers. I have a sister who is a lawyer, a grandfather who is a lawyer, my mother was a lawyer, and my ex-stepfather is a lawyer, but I could refrain from discussing the case with any of them.”

The judge thanked me and moved onto the next juror, “Juror #5, could you answer the questions you see on the wall please.”

Juror #5: “I live in Los Angeles. Not married.”

Judge: “Do you have a partner?”

Juror #5: “No.”

Judge: “A significant other?”

Juror #5 promptly turned into a stellar example of male insecurity: “Well, I don’t know about significant, but I got, you know, a little somethin’ somethin’ goin’ on…”

This made a few people chuckle. It made ME want to smack Juror #5 in the head. He wasn’t the only one. I wanted to smack Juror #7 even harder.

Judge: “Do you have any significant other?”

Juror #7: “Not right now.”

Judge: “Do you have any children?”

Juror #7: “Well, none that I KNOW OF.”

Because it was super important that we all know this idiot had sex (undoubtedly with another idiot). Awesome, bro, you wasted our time and the taxpayer’s money to prove your masculinity in an outdated manner. You stud.

The judge refrained from rolling her eyes — somehow — and continued questioning the rest of the jurors. She had to repeat questions and ask follow-up questions. Sometimes people wanted to tell their life stories. Sometimes people got defensive about not being married, or felt compelled to explain all their divorce proceedings.

It felt interminable to those of us who prize efficiency.

And it wasn’t close to over. Once the judge  finished with the basics, the attorneys got to ask similar questions, attempting to root out any potential prejudice that rendered a juror biased. If they determined there was a bias, and the judge agreed with the attorneys, that juror was sent back to the jury room. Another  potential juror, seated in the courtroom, went into the box. The new juror got the same questions. You’d think the new jurors would have a whole speech down pat, after listening to everyone else. They never did.

I was in the box in LA Superior Court, with a chance to serve on what looked like an interesting criminal case. I got tossed, probably because of all the lawyers in my family.

Instead, I wound up on the most banal of civil cases: a “slip and fall.” A cleaning company had forgotten to put out a “wet floor” sign and a woman in high heels skidded and fell. She sued the cleaning company AND their insurance company for damage done to her knee. I kind of wanted to call Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and see if the injury was medically legit, but I could not. Jurors are warned repeatedly that they cannot discuss the case with anyone. Jurors aren’t even supposed to form an opinion until jury deliberations begin. I don’t know how that’s possible for a person from a judgmental family like mine, but I always try. Generally the best I can do is give myself permission to keep changing my mind as more facts are presented.

The slip-and-fall case was so boring even the judge fell asleep. Several times. The insurance company’s lawyer was so inexperienced that the judge – when awake — had to keep ending Young Lawyer’s irrelevant line of questioning, because no, no one cared about the type of cleaning fluid used.

When the closing arguments were over and the judge set us off to the private jury room to deliberate, my fellow jurors picked the most ineffectual man alive as the foreperson. The cleaning company personnel had admitted under oath that they “forgot” to put up the yellow caution sign. But somehow, our jury deliberated for days and sent out stupid questions to the judge. The judge  repeatedly refer us back to the jury instructions. I was the youngest juror and ignored when I did make suggestions (such as, you know READING the jury instructions). In the end, the three white guys on the jury were sure Plaintiff High Heels wasn’t really injured and would not be moved. Luckily, a civil case only needs nine jurors to agree on the verdict. Case over.

By the time I’d escaped the courtroom, I understood why everyone hated jury duty. The formalities are tedious and time-consuming. The cases are nothing like the trials you see on TV; most objections are voiced quietly, the lawyers never get upset, and the plaintiffs and defendants won’t even so much as roll their eyes. SO. BORING.

I never wanted jury duty again.

I was summoned the following year.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

33 thoughts on “Jury The First (#118)”

  1. In my 18 years of living in the United States (two different states) as a registered voter, I was never once called for jury duty. I still can’t figure out how this is possible. I would have loved to try it once.

    1. Once is enough! 🙂 A lot of it depends on where you live. I think there’s also a little bit of, “Ah-ha! This person served once! We’ve got a live one!” and then you’re a proven quantity and it’s all over.

      1. That is so true. I just mailed in my jury questionnaire today. They say it’s not a summons, but based on history, I’m guaranteed to be called. To me, the questionnaire might as well be a summons. Once you served, you get a 6 years no jury duty period. Guess what? Last time I served was late 2009. They know. If chosen again, this will be my 4th time serving. 2 civil, 1 attempted murder (I was foreperson), 1 murder. Sucks!

        1. 1 murder and 1 attempted murder? Holy Cow, PT, you need your own blog for those. Did you have to do the sentencing? I’ve heard from other jurors that you don’t REALLY know how you feel about capital punishment until you have to sentence someone to death.

          My next posts about the cases where I was foreperson seem very shallow now. VERY SHALLOW.

          1. I don’t recall any death sentencings. For the attempted murder trial (victim & suspect were friends), I nearly messed up when reading out the sentencing (e.g. 1st degree attempted murder, 2nd degree attempted murder, etc). This happened awhile back, but I remember the card I was reading from was confusing.

  2. So true, all of your observations. Too bad the system can’t make things more efficient. Although, seeing the movie at home, and coming in later is a good start. I served on one trial, and it was eye-opening. Took about a week, to find our defendant guilty. Guilty even though she was a parent, with small children. I found it interesting when the defendant’s lawyer placed defendant mom with three small children in the lobby just as the jurors filed by headed to court. Hmmmmmm.

    1. Oh, those lawyers know all the tricks to pull at our heartstrings! You can only take refuge in the law — jurors can only consider what is presented in court. Speculation is not a juror’s job.

  3. Wow this is interesting! I didn’t know that they could ask you such personal questions in the courtroom (and I didn’t think anyone was stupid enough to say such answers). Surprised that high-heels lost even up against an inexperienced young lawyer.

    In all my 30 years of living I’ve never been called into jury duty. My boyfriend, (who is actually Canadian by citizenship!), has been called in twice already! Strange. I wonder how it works.

    My uncle in culver city has been called in 5 times in the last 5 years…! I hope that doesn’t happen to you!

    1. Oh, yes. It totally happens to me. 🙂 I have two more post coming in the jury duty series.

      Where is your driver’s license from? That’s usually how they find you. You’re probably a a flight risk, though, due to all the travel.

  4. 2 hour lunch break? They really do know how to work effectivly 🙂
    I think in Finland they also got some kind of jurors for certain cases but I am not too sure right now. In Germany there are not any jurors at all

    1. No jurors? All the German rulings by judges? That would certainly speed up the system.

      In the U.S. you can opt for a trial by judge only, in civil cases, but it’s not common. The Constitution is very big on the right to a trial by a jury of your peers.

      1. According to some smart website it states: There is no such thing as a jury trial in Germany and judges take on a more active role in court proceedings. Court procedures are otherwise similar to a jury trial in the USA. Under German law the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
        I cant say that it speed things up as there is one lawsuit going on for years against a women from a right wing terrorist group which killed many people over the past decade…

  5. I’ve been called a few times but only served once. It was federal. That means I had to travel 2 hours to the federal courthouse. I got a stupid drug case. The guy was guilty but the cops screwed up the evidence and we had to let him go. Most disappointing experience ever!

      1. We have a local federal court within 5 minutes but they make you go to Philadelphia for the selection and most of the cases are heard there. If you are lucky you can get a case locally but there are also two other long distance venues where you can be assigned too. There is no 20 minute rule here.

  6. Waaah! So that’s how jury duty works like! I am surely going to nag some of my USA friends to tell me more about it. The system here is very different. No jury. 😛

  7. We don’t have juries in the Netherlands, and the American system has always interested me tremendously. When I lived in California I got called for jury duty several times. And having seen so many true crime shows, this was very exciting.

    Still, I kind of already knew I would not qualify, since I’m not an American. Still, if they went through the trouble of sending me a summons, perhaps I could be allowed to serve on a jury I hoped. But as expected, I was disqualified because I’m not an American citizen. Too bad. I filled out the option that I don’t qualify as a foreigner and sent it back.

    The computer system knew from the beginning I’m not American, so why did they waste paper on me? After me returning their form, you’d think they’d register somewhere not to summon me again. Nope, they kept sending new ones… What a waste.

  8. I was on jury duty twice in Sydney. You show up and wait an hour or so. If you get picked in the first draft, you get sent to another waiting room. I wasn’t picked that time in the second waiting room. About 3 years later I was asked again for jury duty. This time I made it to the stand and swore in etc. I was actually happy to participate for my jury duty for the 2 week case of accessory to murder. But as it turned out, the defence team rejected me. My observation was that I was wearing my work suit – most other people were retirees or in casual clothings.

    1. Yeah, I’ve noticed in jury selection that white men get tossed first, especially on criminal cases and by the defense. They tend to think everyone is guilty, according to psychological studies. Next up, professional Asian guys. Women get tossed far less. At least from what I saw.

  9. Where is Judge Judy when you need her? Speaking of Judge Judy, is she still on the air? I remember my grandparents always watched her.

    Oh, that must have been so boring, but also painful. I think my eyes would still be rolling after listening to some of those potential jurors answer the questions.

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