Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jury Duty with a fist full of rocks on top

I was not immediately thrilled when I received my jury summons, but the way Alameda County rolls is that they have all potential prospective jurors (those who've received a jury duty notice in the mail) call the night before the date of their summons to find out if their randomly assigned number had been drawn to receive the grand prize of a stay at the luxurious jury assembly room in the Hayward superior court house. Tony got his summons in the mail the same day I did and he was dismissed without ever having to report to the court house, so when I called the night before my report date I was very hopeful that the same fate would befall me as well... but It didn't.

My initial reaction to the automated woman who informed me that my prescience would in fact be required at the Hayward Superior court for jury duty earlier this week was "Youuu BITCH... I hate you for casting this burden on me !"... and then I moved onto "Life is soooo not fair, why did III get jury duty but Tony didn't, he has a car and it would have been soooo much more convenient for him to go, but no III have to ride my BIKE through ghetto-ass-Hayward to the court house and I will probably get shot and die on the way. this is Awwwwfullll!" but eventually I calmed down and realized that cursing the automated phone woman and Tony's good luck was not going to make jury duty go away, so I began to look for the silver lining. and it did not take me too long to find one.

The time for me to report to court was 8:30 AM and as it happens we live just 5 miles away from the court house which meant I would get to sleep in about 45 minutes longer than usual... and upon researching my route it seemed that I would have a pretty safe flat ride to jury duty, so I decided a day away from my office: reading a book and not having to deal with the constant nagging of phones or paperwork might be a nice change of pace, .

Upon arriving to the jury assembly room I settled into a not so comfy chair in the corner of the room next to a table (so that I would only have to sit next to 1 person ). Then I was pleased to hear that there was a secret upstairs prospective juror waiting room that had couches... I was saddened, however, by the news that, due to budgetary cuts, there were no cups available to get water from the arrowhead water cooler. I am used to keeping my body thoroughly hydrated and I had assumed their would be drinking fountains, so I was not prepared for this cupless watercooler situation. At least I had a nice couch to relax on for the day, I consoled myself. The "no cup" wound was quickly re-opened though, as I bitterly watched the court employee who had just made the announcement about cups flagrantly filling his Nalgene bottle shortly after he had broken the news to us.

I did not have too long to stew in my bitterness though, they started to call names of prospective jurors pretty quickly. When my name hadn't been called by 10:30 I assumed that I would be let go for the day... but instead the Nalgene bottle toting employee made an anouncement that all prospective jurors whose name had not yet been called would be assigned to a court room, but the room would not be ready until 1:00 pm, so we were to leave and come back to the juror assembly room in 2.5 hours. That Nalgene bottle guy was really starting to piss me off !

I returned at 1:00 pm after 2 1/2 hours of aimlessly wandering around Hayward and sitting on random benches for short periods of time to read Saving Fish From Drowning an Amy Tan book that my mom gave me around Christmas time which I was just now getting around to reading. (It's a pretty good book so far, but I don't expect to finish it unless I somehow get jury duty again or some other task forces me to sit still and not sleep, watch TV or be on the Internet for several hours at a time... and such occurrences seem to be rare in my life these days).

It was hard being away from the Internet for so many hours at a time. I was desperate to know what Michael Ian Black had tweeted about that day or what fun, exciting or pointless status updates had gone up on facebook recently (although I was fairly certain that Michael would have posted something about drinking a glass of water), but I guess did managed to fulfill my social networking needs the old timey way... with my good old cell phone. It was nice to get a chance to catch up with Michael and Megan who seem to be too busy to chat during hours that I'm not working.

After I felt I had had enough of socializing on the phone and being outside I obediently returned to the juror holding pen at 12:45. There weren't many people in the room when I got there, but I did notice there was a stack of cups by the water cooler... just as I was making that observation Nalgene bottle guy announced " We restocked the cups at the water coolers feel free to help yourself". You'd think it would have won him some points with me that he scored some cups, but it just made me like him even less since I am pretty sure he'd been lying earlier about there being no cups due to budget cut backs... I wouldn't be surprised if it was just some twisted game he likes to play with the prospective jurors for his own amusement... Nalgene bottle guy can suck it !!! I don't like him! (I made my own cup by saving the container from my apple sauce, so I just used that to get water... I'm resourceful... I don't need to be part of Nalgeen bottle guys sick cup game... )

It was not until a little after 1:30 that I received my assignment, so after 5 hours of suspence the remaining 59 prospective jurors and I shuffled into court room 209 to fill the jury for a criminal DUI hearing.

I held my breath as the court clerk called the first 12 randomly selected jurors and sighed with relief when my name was not called. It was a long process just going through the introductions of each of the 12 originally selected random jurors. Each prospective juror that had been called into the "box" was to state where they had lived for the last 5 years, the jobs they'd had for the last 5 years, if they were married or lived with someone and if they were (or did) what did their spouse/ roommate do and did they have kids, what high school they attended, had they ever served in the military and what was their education level... for most jurors there were follow up questions and random bits of unnecessary details, so it was a very slow processes... especially since some of the jurors had to be replaced as they identified reasons why they were unable to serve on that particularly jury as they went through their introduction.

For example, it took several hours to get to juror number 9 whoe we learned happened to still be an 18 year old senior in high school (even though he had lived in Hayward for the last 4 years and lived in San Leandro for the first 16 years of his life (he really needed to be in school)... Apparently students are excused from jury duty until they have a break from school.

We had only just finished going through the introductions of the 12 jurors at 3:45 when the judge dismissed everyone for the day. He wanted to give anyone who had suddenly had something come up (such as a family emergency or conflict of interest) that would prevent them from serving on the jury talk with him in private before the end of the day... so I was called to come back the next day to see if I would be required to fill in for any of the original jurors.

The next day the lawyers began their process of weeding out the jurors that would be biased against their client. I had never seen lawyers in action other than on TV and it struck me that lawyers (at least during the jury selection process) are not much more than charming teachers that have to somehow explain laws as if the jury is full of preschoolers while the actual mix of jurors ranges from high school drop outs to PHDs. Despite all of the big words and legal jargon that they had learned to pass the bar, those lawyers had to break things down to a pretty elementary level if they wanted to have everyone in the jury understand and eventually side with them.

Mrs. True (Tru?) the defendant's lawyer, whose name I swear I am not making up, was the coolest chick I have ever seen. I so want to be BFFs with her... although I'm sure she's way out of my BFF league. She was just all chill with the prospective jurors asking them about how their family's restaurant that they mentioned was and apologizing for her mispronunciation of peoples names in such a cute sincere way and throwing in witty little observations about things the prospective jurors had said... I can't recall any exact examples of why, but she just left you with the impression that she was the easiest person in the world to get along with. She must have aced her schmoozing test in Law school 'cause that chick new how to work a court... I think if I had been pulled up as a prospective juror my excuse to get out of serving would have been that Ms. True's obvious super coolness had rendered me unable to side on any other side than hers... I'm sure the judge would have loved that... Lame Mr. prosecutor would have had to dismiss me... he was not nearly so cool as Ms. True... he didn't even have a memorable and fitting law name like she did... he had mastered the talking down to the jury without sounding like he was talking down to them thing. First he asked the jurors to imagine that they were at a dinner party and had had a few drinks... and then he asked how they would tell if someone had had too much and couldn't drive... I totally wanted to raise my hand. It was just like a brain storming session in 3rd grade or something. I didn't realize how much audience participation there was in jury duty... but his next "imagine that..." scenario which involved working on a broken car never got to come to fruition 'cause the judge cut him off for wasting everyone's time... the judge did not seem to care for the prosecuting attourney... I didn't really care for him either although I don't know why exactly I think it might have had something to do with the fact that he really was just not as cool as Ms. True...

The lawyers and the judge questioned all of the prospective jurors in the box for several hours dismissing jurors for various reasons... a couple of the jurors seemed to be throwing their answers so that they would be let off...One guy was clearly desperate to get out of the trial so he said he had been charged with a DUI while he was working on a military base. Nobody seemed to want to dismiss him for that so he added that he suffered from panic attacks when he was alone, and after the judge assured him that he would always be with at least 13 people through the duration of the trial the guy suddenly claimed not to speak English very well and with an annoyed look the judge dismissed him.

Some of the questions that they asked each of the prospective jurors seemed like a trap... there were things that you knew would get you out of jury duty, but would probably also get you beat up in the parking lot outside: "Is there anything about the fact that the defendant is a Latino that would make you inclined to vote one way or another on this trial" was one question that I was sure that no one would bite on... yet much to my surprise on the second day of jury selection... after about 20 minutes of questioning just befoer swearing in the 2 alternate jurors and dismissing us for the day alternate juror number 2 had a burning confession he had to make...

alternate juror number 2 was a hearty looking Chinese man who worked for his brother's construction company and who felt unique in that the "majority of his friends [were] Latinos because of the industry he worked in so [he] would probably side with the defendant"... WHAT? We live in California who doesn't have a dozen or so Latino friends ? Come on... really? You really can't see the distinction in your mind between our defendant "Mr. Perez" and your friends from work? To me that seems almost as racist as if he had said that he would have to convict Mr. Perez because he just didn't trust Mexicans... do they all look the same to you man ? Total crap! Oh well. The prosecutor obviously had to pull that guy off of his alternate jury seat, so another random name, which was not mine (SCORE! ) was called, and a very sweet soft spoken Asian girl who didn't drink because it was considered a sin at her church, but didn't judge people who did drink, took the final alternate juror position. The alternate jurors were signed in at about 3:00 pm on the 2nd day of selection and the 7 or 8 unselected prospective jurors (including myself) were set free minutes later (after the judge assured us that us unslectees were really missing out on an experience... I guess I can go ahead and look forward to my next jury duty session then).

I was so excited to be out in the sunshine and fresh air and on my way home at 3:00 in the afternoon. I was already dreaming of walking through my garden at home and admiring my little baby corn and pea plants when I approached my bike and noticed that my front tire was flat. It was the second flat I'd gotten in 3 days so I was a little annoyed, especially since 3 days ago I had ordered a new bike tube online, but had not yet received it, and when I went to the bike shop to get a new tube for my first flat I hadn't the fore site to buy an extra tube to take care of my next flat.

I remembered that there was a gas station about 3 blocks from the court house though so I figured that I could put some air in it and see if i could ride it at least most of the way home... I was still in pretty good spirits and was optimistic that I could find a way to ride my bike home, but as I walked my bike past a group of teenagers they decided I had somehow offended them and the two boys started to throw rocks at me... fortunately for me they seemed to be completely blind and managed to miss me (and my bike) with each of the 14 or 15 rocks they threw... I was glad to find that not all the youths of Hayward are ass holes though 'cause the 2 girls that were with those boys convinced them to stop throwing things at me cause they, like me, had noticed that the boys were "being stupid". Looking back on it, it doesn't seem like such a big deal, but at the time it made me want to cry. I guess it was just so unnecessarily mean and inconsiderate that it made me feel kind of helpless and definitely angry. Cruelty bothers me...

I got to the gas station a few minutes later and found that the valve stem of my bike's tire had actually been completely ripped off. I am not sure if it was something that I had inadvertently done when I was locking up my bike or if it was an intentional act of random vandalism, but feeling the way I did at that moment I was certain it was intentional and I once again felt like the victim of injustice. I decided I would turn it in to a positive thing though 'cause I knew there was a K-Mart not too far away and I needed practice changing bike tires, so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I could just buy a new tube and a cheap air pump and get my independent womanness on. I did make it to Kmart after about 45 minutes of walking my bike across town (turned out that Kmart was a little farther than I had originally imagined) and I did successfully changed my tire, but much to my shagrin when I went to pump up the new tube and couldnt seem to get air into it, I suddenly remembered that the wheels on this particular bike required a special type of valve that was longer than those on regular bike tubes... so I was stuck once more with a heavy useless bike to walk home and now I also had a 10 lb bike pump to carry with me. AWESOME HAD JUST GOTTEN AWESOMEER!

At that point there was no saving my mood. I was hot and tired and angry at the injustice of it all, but fortunately I called Tony and he came to rescue me and I still got home exactly at 5pm which is earlier than usual. I find it somewhat striking though that I went to jury duty which is supposed to teach you about justice and I seemed to learn a lot more about the prevalence of injustice in America. Not just because some punk kids threw rocks at me, or because I had to go to jury duty and Tony didn't, but the whole system, the way prospective jurors will say things to get let off the jury and the way lawyers will try to charm you to say something rather than leaving it to be truly decided by the evidence seems kind of whack although I definitely can't think of any solution to our legal system that would be better... but I hope that if I ever am on a jury I can put a little justice in the justice system... but I guess I can't totally hate on my 1st bay area Jury experience If nothing else I got some extra sleep, read part of an actual grown up book and I rediscovered PB and J so I guess that alone is enough to make it a positive experience.

No comments: