Momentous Monday: We, the jury

Here’s a funny story. Once I hit adulthood and after college, I got called to jury duty about every four years or so. Now, I’ll admit that I quickly figured out that the best way to game the system and not get called at all was to re-schedule for a major holiday week — either Thanksgiving week, or one with Yom Kippur or Passover in the middle.

The other trick, once they got into the phone-in system was to wait until as late as possible in the day to call and see if you were selected.

In the first case, none of the attorneys or judges wants to schedule a trial to start up right before or after a holiday, so those weeks tend to not need people. In the second case, all the nervous nellies call starting right at five p.m. and they will get called up. Meanwhile, if you wait until ten or eleven in the evening, all the slots have probably already been filled.

These tactics haven’t always kept me out, but I can only think of three times that I’ve actually had to go down to the courthouse, and I’ve never had to go more than two days in a row.

By the way, I have no objections to the concept of jury duty. I just think that it needs to pay people enough to live on while they do it. Sorry, but $15 a day are untenable wages, period, whether one’s employer compensates or not.

Still — it’s much better, at least in L.A., than it used to be. I remember a judge in one case explaining to us that back in the old days — the 1960s and prior — “jury duty” was set for 30 days, and it meant that people called had to report to the courthouse every day for 30 days, and just sit there and wait until they were called, or not.

No wonder everyone wanted to duck it. I mean, what a shit system, right?

Eventually, the term shortened to 14 days, and then they figured out that telephones where a thing, and by the time I first got called, we’d gotten to the point of, “Don’t come in until we call, but we’ll call you if we need you if you call us to check.”

So, more often than not, I’d get that summons and wind up never having to show up at all.

I only ever made it onto a jury once, sort of. I was chosen as second alternate for a drunk-driving trial. We were empaneled on the first day, testimony began, then we were dismissed for the day before four p.m. and asked to come back to the Van Nuys courthouse the next morning.

Well, we came back and then were told to wait outside. And wait. And wait. Finally, one of the officers who was supposed to testify — I don’t remember whether he was a Sheriff or Highway Patrol — came out in full uniform, looked at us and laughed in full-on condescending asshole mode. “Thanks for coming on down!” he scoffed, and it was yet another moment of me wondering, “Who do these people work for, again?” (And “full-on asshole mode” made me think “Definitely Sheriff.”)

Anyway… the defendant had basically hired one of those bus-stop bench attorneys who was trying to drag things out as long as possible until they came to some plea bargain, and we were no longer needed. Gee. Thanks! We never did find out whether he got off or not, because we had become discards of the system by that point.

Next time around was a murder trial, and I really wanted to be on that one, but for whatever reason I was rejected. I did figure out, though, what case it referred to, followed the proceedings, and was very happy to hear that the jury found the defendant guilty, because he obviously was.

And then… I wound up in the jury pool for one of those cases where ridiculous anti-gang laws led to something along the lines of “The guy we’re trying once dated the sister of the guy who sold the gun to the guy who drove the car of the guy we convicted of homicide, so that first guy is also guilty.”

Okay, not quite as convoluted in real life, but close. Defendant loaned his car to a friend, who drove some other guy to a place where said other guy did a drive-by and killed someone. Defendant was being tried for that homicide, even though he had no idea that’s what he was loaning his car for. (Guess the race of the defendant, by the way.)

When it got to the questioning, one of the things the prosecutor asked each of us was, “Could you find someone guilty under a law you did not agree with?”

Now, I could have committed perjury and said, “Yes,” then proceeded to refuse to convict. But there’s the problem. Could I find someone guilty under that kind of law, especially when that kind of law seems to be targeted directly at people of color?

Oh, hell no. And when the prosecutor — who, by the way, was one of those perfectly obnoxious conservative Hate Barbies — heard my answer, she got me kicked off the panel, and that was it.

I never heard what happened in that case but… I also wasn’t called back to jury duty for over eight years, until last October, which was the worst possible time, since I was still working in Medicare then. I got it postponed to December and pulled my old holiday trick — reset for December 21, 2020, the Monday before Christmas.

Now, COVID-19 probably contributed somewhat, in that the number of actual in-person hearings and trials may be low, but in any case I only called in a couple of times before they said, “Thanks, you’re done.”

I had started to wonder, though: Had I wound up on some kind of list? Did I garner some sort of “I’m not going to rubber stamp your bullshit” badge?

On the one hand, that would be flattering. On the other… I did finally get called again. It still irks me, though, that even with a jury trial, some people never do get justice. Sometimes, especially not with a jury trial.

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