Most Americans don’t get called for jury duty more than a few times in their lives. But most people don’t live in Los Angeles County. LA has a massive number of court cases. LA also has a massive immigrant population that a) is not always fluent in English (a necessity for jurors), and b) does not always have the driver’s license that lands an Angeleno on California’s list of potential jurors.
There are worse places for a potential juror. Places where you might get jury duty every year. Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister reports that in Washington D.C., between the crime and the federal courts, the courts are so hard up for jurors that lawyers – normally tossed immediately from the jury pool – are welcomed with open arms. Much to their surprise and dismay.
The first time I served on a jury, the experience was a complete letdown. The proceedings and jury selection were tedious. The case was boring and poorly defended. The foreperson on our jury was inept. Justice was served in the end, but excruciatingly slowly. Incredibly inefficiently.
The second time I was summoned for jury duty, I again landed on a civil case. In this case, the plaintiff was a landlady suing her tenant for non-payment of rent.
The defendant (the tenant) was representing himself. And yes, he proved that old adage, “The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Though it soon became clear that the defendant was definitely NOT trained as a lawyer.
The plaintiff’s counsel had formal letters of demand asking for rent, proof that the defendant had repeatedly filed for bankruptcy, and a witness who heard the defendant boasting that if he didn’t pay rent, the poor woman wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage and her property would go into foreclosure.
The defendant had nothing. No canceled checks. No bank statements showing withdrawals. I’m not even sure what the man did in the courtroom, besides get repeatedly admonished by the judge and have his questions objected to by the plaintiff’s lawyer. The man presented no credible evidence. For almost a week.
He did, however, nearly get into a fist fight with the witness. I mean, the bailiff actually had to leave his desk! Even better, the bailiff had to haul the chest-bumping, would-be combatants apart! A civil courtroom was briefly less-than-civil! For a place built on mind-numbing, routine procedure, our almost-fight was downright thrilling.
Alas, the bailiff was too good, and the excitement was over in minutes. There wasn’t even blood. Boo.
Possibly even the defendant knew his case was hopeless after that. He didn’t show up for closing arguments. He didn’t so much as call. The judge shrugged and proceeded.
The judge read the jury instructions, telling us that we could only consider the facts presented. We were not to speculate on any facts not in evidence, nor on the consequences of our verdict. The judge told us we’d probably only have time to pick a foreperson before he adjourned for the day. Probably the judge hoped to dismiss us and get in a round of golf. We went into the jury room at 3:30 PM.
This time, I had experience. I’d also had a whole week to plan. While the other jurors stared at each other uncomfortably, I said, “I’ve been on a jury before. Does anyone mind if I’m foreperson?”
No one answered. I said, “Great!”
Someone ventured, “I guess we should talk about the case?”
I said, “Maybe. But first, let’s do a preliminary vote. With hands. All those who find in favor of the plaintiff for the maximum amount of damages, raise your hand.”
Six of my fellow jurors raised their hands. Five looked at me blankly. I rephrased, “Raise your hand if you think the landlady should get all the money she’s asking for.”
Five more hands shot in the air. I added mine and said, “Good. We’re unanimous. There’s nothing to discuss. I think we’re done.”
I grabbed the form where the jury enters their verdict and began filling it out. The other jurors, finally freed from our prohibition against discussing the case, went off on what an asshole the defendant was.
Juror #2 asked the room at large, “Do you think that poor woman will ever get her money?”
Several jurors shook their heads.
I agreed, but I reminded them that it wasn’t our problem. Our sole purpose was to find for one party or the other and assign monetary damages.
The bailiff knocked on the door as I signed the verdict and stuffed it into the brown envelope with the jury instructions. I let him into the jury room.
The bailiff said, “The judge wants to release you for the day and have you report back tomorrow–”
I handed him the envelope. “No need. We’re done.”
It was 3:40. The bailiff was taken aback. So was the judge. Instead of sprinting to the golf course, Miffed Judge had to wait while his courtroom assistant located the plaintiff and made a desultory effort to locate the defendant. Miffed Judge then had to wait for the plaintiff and her lawyer to get back into the courtroom (there was no waiting on the absent defendant). Our jury was then summoned from our little room. Miffed Judge read the verdict. Then he was forced to wait while the sole lawyer polled the jury, making sure the verdict was unanimous. We were then dismissed.
I looked back as we left the courtroom.
The plaintiff sobbed quiet tears of relief into a tissue. It’s likely that she never did get the money she was owed, but we’d done our part for justice — as efficiently as possible.
In fact, I like to think that our jury holds the record for fastest verdict in California history.