Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jury Duty in the City

Hall of Justice - Steps One of the civic duties of being an American citizen is to serve on a jury.  Mijo tried to talk me out of it. A coworker Z did the same thing but I guess, deep inside, I wanted to check out for myself how the American justice system works. Well, at least how the lower courts function. In the end, I discovered that lots of people share Mijo and Z's sentiments about Jury Duty. Everyone tries to be excused from this community service so the entire jury selection process becomes like a big soap opera. To make the story short, I got summoned to go to jury duty and while I was at the Hall of Justice from 8am till 4pm, with two fifteen minute breaks and a lunch break, I was not selected as one of the twelve jurors.

Hall of Justice - View of downtown It starts with a summon. It is a letter from the county that is sent weeks in advance indicating you are being summoned for a Jury Duty. The place, date and time are also included in the letter. You may move the date to a later one if you have a scheduled medical procedure, a travel plan that cannot be cancelled or a wedding. I would learn later on that there are other reasons, some absurd and bordering on ridiculous, that can be used to be excused from Jury Duty.

I went to the Hall of Justice on the day of the summon. Most of the people I know told me they go to Civic Center. There is a difference between the two venues.  The case was a Driving Under the Influence or DUI arrest so I think that was why we were asked to go to the Hall of Justice. After signing in, we were ushered into a roomful of people, over a thousand, I think. From that pool, around seventy to eighty names were called. Lucky me, my name was called right away. There were more instructions but I was just too excited and distracted to listen. Why was I excited, I really don't know. I just followed the crowd who were all going to the actual court room. Luckily, I followed the right crowd.

Turtle Tower - Bowl of Pho[Here is a picture of the delicious Pho I had for lunch that day. Turtle Bay #3 is a block from the Hall of Justice on Bryant and 6th St.]

There were several court rooms at the Hall of Justice. Inside our court room, there was the Judge, an attorney representing the DA or District Attorney and an attorney representing the defendant, the defendant, a guard, a recorder and an assistant. We were asked to be seated while they do a roll call. This is to make sure that everyone in the list is inside and present. They narrowed us down further to twenty four. For the ones whose names were called, they were assigned a seat number by which they will be addressed. One by one, they were asked basic information like their name, type work if they currently have a job or business, marital status, and if they have served in a Jury before . The Judge may ask more questions if he wants more information or clarification. This is done so that the Judge may excuse those he thinks may have bias or maybe unable to fairly decide on the case. This is the part where it gets soap operatic. This is where the possible jurors exaggerate stories with the goal of being excused. The others were excused because of a family history, prior or current jobs, economic situations, prior DUI arrests, etc.

So that my afternoon won't be a complete waste of time, I compiled two of the most popular reason people use to get excused, at least, from my first time to answer a summon.

Hall of Justice - FacadeThe mostly used excuse and gets too old right away is the I don't speak English. It was used all the time that day by immigrants. Who knows? Maybe some of them were really born here but just suddenly developed strange accents that day? I understand one may not perfectly comprehend what is being discussed in English but to say no comprendo completamente is totally unfair. There was a time when I would hear Oh nos from behind me whenever an elderly Asian or Latino person was called into the Jury seat. To be fair to my Asian cousins, there was a person called to replace someone who got excused. When he was being interviewed, he answered swiftly in his heavy Eastern European accent. When I say swiftly, it was fast. Super fast. I don't want to be bad but imagine former Governor Arnie talking very very fast. This person got excused.

The second reason is a work related one. Something very important that will only happen the next day or two. It can be a promotion, a key meeting with a client, a business commitment they cannot cancel. Anything work related but used with the words important, key, substantial, very important, very very important.

Another reason that is mostly used is a back problem. This means a person, in our case a few, is unable to sit down for a long period of time. In the beginning, someone with a back problem got excused.  Right after that, I noticed a few folks started standing up and sitting down periodically with a matching facial expressions of excruciating pain while massaging their back. The chairs would creak when when they move ruining everybody's attention. I said they because, there were four or maybe five of them doing the same thing. I would hear other folks saying Jesus while shaking their heads. It didn't take long for me to figure this one out. In the end, I joined in the chorus saying Jesus while rolling my eyes. Luckily, only one of these people with back problem were called.

From the twenty four, the judge reshuffled some seats. In the end, seats number 1 through 12 were picked with two stand-bys. We were allowed to leave at 4pm.

I am just hoping I won't get the summon in the next two or three years and you all know the reason why.


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