I've never been known to have traditional interests. Scouring graveyards for inspiration is often cited as one of my more, uh, non-traditional interests. I don't recall when it started, but since I was aware of the possibility, I've been dying to be chosen for jury duty. After all, I've spent a lifetime watching Perry Mason, Matlock, Law and Order, and so many other television courtroom dramas. Twelve Angry Men, Miracle on 34th Street, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, The Caine Mutiny, and of course My Cousin Vinny all provided me with valuable experience as a trial lawyer, a judge, and certainly a juror. From them I've learned that whichever hand a man writes his name with is the hand with which he pummels his daughter, if the postal service recognizes you then you do indeed exist, no self-respecting Southerner would use instant grits, Tom Cruise can't handle the truth, and Humphrey Bogart loves strawberries. That being said, I think I'm well qualified to be an exemplary juror.
So ever since I turned 18 I've been ready to adjudicate. As a bonus, having raised five kids, I've learned something of the wisdom of Solomon. I've got an eye for who's lying, who's telling the truth, and who's deflecting suspicion by telling on his little brother. At all times, no matter the date, season, or circumstance, I'm at the Parish's, State's, or even Federal Government's disposal.
Most people are not. They live in fear of that little white paper that comes in the mail with the ominous words Jury Summons stamped across it. This is a mystery to me. At work, I hear people who have not been summoned confer with fellow jury-phobes about the best schemes to escape the juror's box. Some of them seem as desperate as John Cusack in the John Grisham film Runaway Jury. If you haven't seen it, Cusack spends a lot of effort trying to get off the jury. He whines, he pleads, he schemes, all to no avail. I cannot relate to this in any way, shape, or form.
Once, many years ago, I was excited to finally receive my first jury summons. At that time, I lived in a different parish. (That's a Louisiana county for all you plain folks who are not privileged to live in this mystical Catholic state.) I pinned the notice to our cork board, circled the date on the calendar, and was crushed when a follow-up notice arrived to inform me that I was no longer needed. Hard news, indeed.
|Herman Munster (okay, I know it's Fred Gwynn) lays|
down the law for the irreverent Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny
So life moved on, I watched co-workers called up for jury duty with envy, wondering what made them so special. Wasn't I willing? Wasn't I eager to serve my local government? I certainly wasn't one of the unfaithful begging his doctor to write out a fake diagnosis with some jury-duty prohibitive injury or illness. I was their man! Why couldn't they see that?
At this point, let me make a small proposal. I think it would be fair to set up a volunteer sheet that citizens can sign if they want to be on a jury. Honestly, this should be standard practice. Perhaps I'll run for local office and make this my major campaign promise. I'm thinking it should win over the voting public. Vote for me and I'll make sure Everyone gets Jury Duty! I should win in a landslide.
But there is no volunteer option. And so I waited on the sidelines. Even my wife was chosen before me. She was back home in an hour that day, which did not bother her. It didn't bother me either. I didn't want her on the jury. I wanted me on the jury.
But as they say, all things come to them that wait. And finally, sweet rapturous joy--my summons arrived!
Now, I immediately ignored the fact that my summons ordered me to arrive at the jury pool room on April 1st. There was no way this was an April Fool's gag. If it was, someone was going to be in serious trouble. I love to joke around as much as the next guy, but don't tease me about jury duty. Don't go there. And I was sure Calcasieu Parish was not in the habit of spending money mailing out jokes. So I circled the date, informed my employer I would be temporarily unavailable to perform my job since I was needed to adjudicate what was likely to be a very tricky, bombshell of a trial that would have far-reaching consequences in the legal world. I rather expected I would not be back to work for long, long time.
|Do you think it would hurt my|
chances to be selected for a jury
if they knew I'd written a book
entitled Jury Rig?
The legal system needed me. And as you know, I was more than willing to offer up my expertise.
The morning arrived. I was up early, four hours early in fact, ready to do my duty. I left with plenty of time to spare, just in case a long, slow train blocked my path, or traffic attempted to thwart my efforts to assist the legal system. Nothing was going to get in my way.
When I was settled in my seat in the jury pool, I surveyed the room. There must have been three hundred people there. It seemed all so unnecessary. I could hear them muttering to each other, wishing they could think of an excuse to leave. One lady had brought a baby, and some of the less patriotic amongst us asked her if they could borrow the baby so they too could have an excuse to be let go. Such a shocking suggestion inflamed my sense of moral, righteous, and civic outrage. I would have stood up and denounced them for the cowards and traitors that they were, but I was savvy enough to realize that if these reprobates could succeed in escaping the jury, then my chances of serving were that much better. So I held my tongue, and tried not to sneer at their willful negligence of civic responsibility.
I felt the first stirring of doubt when the kind jury lady announced that the two civil cases had been settled out of court. Settled out of court? What kind of nonsense is that? Who said these people could resolve their differences without me, the jury? This sort of cooperation between plaintiff and defendant will get out of hand. Before you know it, the courts will stand empty of conflict and accusation. In no time at all, lambs will be lying down with lions. It isn't right. That's supposed to be reserved for heaven. Not appropriate behavior for this Earth, I can tell you. Someone should look into this. Put a stop to it.
But there was still hope. There supposed to be two criminal trials, so at least people were still breaking the law and it would be up to us wise, Solomonic jurors to weed out the innocent from the criminal. The good guys from the bad guys. The cowboys from the...sorry, I forgot. (I know, I know. Cut me some slack, I was raised in the 70's.)
We waited a little longer, the suspense hung in the air like the heady odor of movie popcorn at the theater. I could taste it. The juror's box was mine. All those years of listening to Matlock's closing arguments, all the time spent studying Herman Munster's portrayal of a judge, it was all going to be worth it. I was going to decide a fellow human's fate. The scales of justice would be in my hands.
|Co-workers suggested I might not be the best guy to stick in a room|
with eleven other people under pressure. They thought I might get
into an argument or something. I don't know what they are talking
about. I'm easy to get along with. (Scene from Twelve Angry Men)
The kind jury lady steps to the rostrum again. She looks over the crowd. She announces that she will call out fifty names. The field is narrowing. Surely they've been watching us in the room, surely they've seen who is worthy and who should be flicked out of the room like an ant from the sugar bowl. They didn't belong, and the officers of the court would deal swiftly with them. Then they would turn to me, and a few other worthies, and admit how much they needed our assistance to keep the wheels of justice moving. Oh, it was there, within my grasp. I had only to wait for my name to be called, and I would take my judgement seat with a humble attitude and a firm resolve.
Who am I kidding? I knew before she read the names I wouldn't be chosen. But I listened intently, just in case. I watched her call the names of those who had been bartering for the baby. Lucky vermin. Where was justice when you needed her? Blindfolded and half-drunk, it seemed. She's not very bright, that's for sure. She completely jiggered the whole thing. Never called my name. I was left with only the smallest measure of hope; there was one more criminal case. I might still be needed. I might still be allowed to perform my duty.
But what's this? The not-so-kind jury lady offers up a lame explanation of the second criminal case. She says something about it, with no specifics. Mostly it sounds like the judge just wasn't going to deal with the case that week. I still don't know what she meant. But before I could point out that justice was nothing to be ignored, that a case must be handled in a timely manner--she dismissed us. Just like that. We were sent home.
Twenty-five years of waiting. All for naught. I couldn't help wishing that crime had been a bit more prevalent in our district. How can a city this large have only one criminal trial? This can't be good for society.
But I won't give in to despair. I'm back home now, ready and willing to serve. And if it takes another twenty-five years, I'll still be ready. By then, I'll have the wisdom of a grandfather. That ought to put me at the head of the line, don't you think?