It was like a scene out of “Disorder in the Court” by The Three Stooges: Where do you work? What do you do? Where do you work? What do you do?
Begrudgingly I answered the call for Jury Duty on Monday. Normally I shake off the inconvenience and greet my civic duty with curious anticipation. Not so this time. “Oh, they’ll never chose you, you work in law enforcement now,” everyone told me. It was an utter waste of my time, and I have now been kicked out of my third jury opportunity. Bummer.
It was an experience anyway. The first two times I’ve been called to serve in large towns, well over 100,000 in population. You probably know the drill, a large number of jurors show up at the designated time in a large room and from there you are dispersed to different court rooms, each one for a different trial. Many trials occur simultaneously which means massive man power–judges, lawyers, clerk reporters, bailiffs, potential jurors, paper pushers, and nameless people behind the scenes. Then there is my county.
Maybe seventy of us answered the summons to the one trial of the week. We gathered into the one courtroom and all of us went through the proceedings. Because the one clerk recorder was working in the neighboring county this brisk morning, we had to use a microphone to record the trial. We had just finished our surveys, which the judge promised would save time, and a couple women were making copies of them when the power went out.
At least seven were excused for knowing the defendant, witnesses, or the DA, and another handful left for medical reasons. One woman, who knew the DA, was replaced by her husband (how is that mathematically possible in a random selection?) who wasn’t even given a chance to sit down in the jury box. Two in the jury box looked like drug addicts. Considering the the county, those were good odds. Although the judge gave both sides only twenty minutes to ask questions, we seemed to dig up all the dirt in town. When asked to describe previous experiences with the court system and whether they caused any strong feelings in the potential juror about the legal system or cops, one woman broke out in sobs. A long time ago she had been a victim of domestic violence. She and her husband left the courthouse at the same time and no one protected her… That’s all we learned from her. Another question revealed that she has spent the past six months sick in her home. Only jury duty caused her to venture out into the world. The judge sent her home. Two seats to her right in the front row a man admitted to being charged for domestic violence, and two more confessed to DUI convictions.
When the defense attorney, who has “practiced law in the same place, on Main Street, for the past thirty years,” started questioning, I knew he didn’t want me on the jury anyway. His suit jacket looked as if it had been practicing law for the past thirty years too, a poor representation for the man’s creative, animated case. Working with convicts, however, has taught me that just because you can’t find the missing item, doesn’t mean it never existed. You’d never believe what disappears into the bowels of the living units where I work. The car engine in question could be anywhere in any number of pieces. At the same time, I’ve learned confessions are not always what they appear. I was musing over this when they called me to fill an empty chair.
First I had to explain that yes I do live in this county, only about three miles across the county line, but still. And yes, my address states I live in a town in the other county. Yes, I have to explain this to the ladies downstairs in the records room about every six months too. They scratch their heads the same way every time. My mail reaches me, I can vote, my car is registered, so what do I care? Finally I satisfied the judge that I did in fact belong there.
“So, I’m not sure from your survey here. Are you a victim of criminal youth or do you work with them?”
“Who do you work for?”
“The Department of Corrections.”
“But you’re a teacher.”
We went around in circles like that for a moment when the defense attorney grew impatient and jumped in with his own questions.
“You work in law enforcement, so you’re obviously going to believe what a police officer says. Right?”
Oh boy, the stories I could tell. “No.”
“We’re all human.”
Someone to my left made a funny sound.
“Well, I’m not asking you give names.”
“And I’m not going to.” Nor was I going to develop his case for him.
The judge looked like he finally figured out what do with me and called the lawyers to his bench. We could hear him say that it boiled down to the fact that I’m employed by DOC, and said they could stop “torturing” me with questions about my line of work.
In the populated neighboring county my co-worker spent all of fifteen minutes at jury duty the week before. She said they told all the DOC workers to go home. But this is how we choose juries in small towns. I wouldn’t have missed it.