After serving on two excruciating civil juries, I got lucky. I reported for jury duty twice and never left the jury room. I was dismissed from service at the end of the day. Both times.
There was great rejoicing. Seriously. Jury duty sounds exciting, but it really just means 5 hours of tedium added to your workday. Your employer IS required to allow you to serve. Your employer is NOT required to hire anyone to handle your workload while you are serving. And thus there’s no chance in hell your employer WILL hire anyone to cope with your workload. This means most jurors hit their offices or cubicles before and after court. It’s either that or wade through piles of paperwork to find your chair.
Last year, I was ordered to report for jury duty once again.
This time to the Los Angeles Superior Court in Compton. For those of you not familiar with Compton, it’s not close to home and it’s not the nicest area of Los Angeles.
I postponed. I postponed again. Then I applied for an excuse.
In October, my excuse was denied. So was my request to transfer to a closer courtroom. I was, however, allowed to pick the week I would report. I consulted my lawyer friends and relatives. Their opinions were unanimous.
“Pick the week of Thanksgiving! You’ll never get jury duty then!
“Oh, Thanksgiving week, for sure. Phone in Sunday night and you won’t even have to report.”
“Thanksgiving. Without question. No one starts a trial that week.”
I took their advice.
And you know what? They were all wrong. About everything.
I had to report on Monday.
I got sent to a courtroom within two hours BECAUSE A TRIAL WAS JUST STARTING.
It was one of THREE trials just starting, in fact.
Team Lawyer’s Current Score: -3. Minus one point for each damned trial.
Within a day I was in seat of an alternate juror (#14), being questioned by an Uber Competent Judge (i.e., a judge who actually paid very close attention and did not fall asleep, unlike the first judge I met). It was a criminal trial, which meant that police officers (unironically referred to as “peace officers” by the court) would be testifying. The judge had to make sure none of the jurors would give more – or less – credence to a police officer.
And therein lay my last chance at escaping jury duty. Because I was biased. I had dated two police officers and lived next door to two members of the Los Angeles Police Department. (No, I did not date the ones next door. Even in my youth, I was not THAT stupid.) I was required to disclose these relationships to the court. So I did.
Our Uber Competent Judge asked, “Juror #14, based on your relationships with peace officers, do you think you could avoid giving greater weight to the testimony of a peace officer than to other witnesses?”
I pasted on my happy face and cheerfully announced, “Absolutely! I am much more likely to have the opposite problem.”
The Latino judge did the slightest of double takes. That was the only time I ever saw him so much as hesitate. I guess he’d never gotten that response from a conservatively dressed white woman before. I helpfully explained, “It’s been my experience that almost every officer will – without hesitation — exaggerate, misremember, and even outright lie to protect their fellow officers. Even when that fellow officer is clearly acting illegally. So, yeah, I think I could avoid giving their testimony extra special credence.”
Mr. Uber Competent Judge nodded, then asked, “But do you think you could set aside your previous experience and judge any peace officer strictly on their testimony in this courtroom?”
Since I’ve never met a soapbox I didn’t like, I didn’t just say yes. Cuz, you know, that wouldn’t have been honest and also that soapbox beckoned. “I would try very hard, Your Honor,” I hedged, “but I’ve seen many members of the LAPD break the law, believing that they have special privileges and are not bound by the same laws as regular citizens. And they justify this by saying, ‘We have a really hard job and we deserve any perks we can get. And if we haul a guy in, you’d better believe he was doing something wrong, even if it’s not what we arrested him for.’” (I could give you a whole laundry list of conversations / actions where I’ve watched the LAPD act illegally, immorally, and with undisguised vengeance. But that’s another post. Or ten. Or maybe not a post at all, since an internet pseudonym is worth fuck all against the vindictive wrath of the LAPD.)
Mr. Uber Competent Judge nodded once more. “I see. Again, the question is, would you be able to consider a peace officer’s testimony in this case the same as any other witnesses’ testimony?”
And this is how they get you. For all that I made fun of our tedious legal system and its corrupt “peace officers,” I still respected the law. I took the affidavit I signed seriously. I was incapable of lying to the person in the black robes. I was also incapable of deliberately doing a bad job. And I couldn’t lie about that, either.
Damn, that judge was good. Judges are all lawyers, aren’t they? Crap. Score one point for the lawyers. Team Lawyer is now kicking butt with a whole -2.
I sighed and told the judge, “I would try my very best, Your Honor, to avoid letting any of my past experiences with the LAPD interfere with my assessment of a police officer’s testimony in this particular case.”
Mr. Uber Competent Judge thanked me and moved on to the remaining jurors. Then he turned the questions over to the prosecutor and the counsel for the defense.
Sadly, the defense attorney hadn’t brought his A game. “Juror #14, based on your relationships with members of the Los Angeles Police Department, are you sure you aren’t likely to give more credence to the testimony of a peace officer?”
I looked at him like the idiot he was. “Yes. I’m more likely to give them LESS credence.”
Idiot Defense Attorney was not adept at hiding his surprise. “Real—uh, in that case, no further questions.”
Should I give him a point for quitting while he was ahead? Nah. Team Lawyer remains negative. If they shoot themselves in the foot like this on a regular basis, it’s no goddamned wonder they drink more than any other professionals.
And the prosecutor? She was the one with the police officer as a witness. She must have either thought her case was airtight (spoiler alert: it was NOT), or she believed me when I said I would try very hard not to let my bias against cops interfere with justice. After the attorneys and the judge huddled in the hallway, several potential jurors were excused.
I was not one of them.
Instead, I was moved from alternate juror to Juror #4. DESPITE MY ADMITTED BIAS.
Team Lawyer is now at -20, due to lack of due diligence. They have also been renamed Team Idiot Lawyer.
On the last Wednesday in November at noon, when I SHOULD have been baking my father’s awesome apple pie for the holiday, I was sworn in as a juror on my first criminal trial.
Team Idiot Lawyer, -1,020. No. Make that -1,000,020.
Mainly because, “You’ll never get jury duty at Thanksgiving,” was clearly bullshit.