Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jury Duty, Day One

So... I was the crazy one taking notes on everything. The people sitting near me in the juror holding pen... um, the Juror Lounge, I guess... probably thought I was insane. Oh well. So, nothing too exciting, but here's my report.

I arrived on time at 8:45 this morning to the Criminal Court building, which is the one I'd been assigned to. Got through the metal detector and took a seat in the second floor juror room, which was actually a pretty pleasant place. The chairs were comfortable, there were bathrooms and vending machines, temperature was okay. It was like a huge airport gate area. At about 9:10, a man came in and welcomed us, told us this was our civic duty, and he knows none of us want to be here, but that they would try to make it as comfortable as possible. Aside from the fact that they probably give Iraqi prisoners of war the same speech, it was okay.

Then they put on a video for us to watch. "Your Turn: Jury Service in New York State." I wanted to really mock the video, but in all honesty it was a better explanation of the jury system than anything we got in law school, so I can't be too critical. That said, it was clearly put together by someone who wishes he was making real movies and is instead stuck making the juror instructional video for the New York court system. There was some museum-quality stuff going on in the video.

It started off with some people dressed up like ancient Romans -- beards, period clothing, looked like they filmed it in Colonial Williamsburg or the Renaissance Faire. Before juries, defendants used to be tied up and thrown into the water. If they floated, they were guilty. If they sank, they were innocent. It actually looked like an episode of Lost. I feel bad for the actor who had to get wet.

I recognized the narrator's voice but couldn't place it. He went on to talk about how it's a good thing we don't still throw our defendants in the water, and how our system today is much better. I couldn't help but imagine the casting call that must have gone out for this. "Seeking bearded actors to play critical role in juror instruction video. May get wet." Lovely.

But this was just the teaser. The title card came up, and the music switched to something that reminded me of one of those spiritual shows that used to be on early Saturday morning when I was a kid, like that Mormon show where people were always doing good for each other, with the Broadway actress Celeste Holm. There's no way anyone knows what I'm talking about.

Anyway. And suddenly we're in a courtroom, and there's Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes, the narrator whose voice I couldn't place. I'd love to know how much of our taxpayer money they spent to get Ed Bradley to do this. Ridiculous. Okay. So Ed said something about how people hate jury service, and then we got some man on the street clips that fell off the back of Jay Leno's production van.

"When I got my jury summons my heart sank."

"I have a lot to do at the office."

"Do I have the right to judge anyone?"

"I hope I don't have to see photos or evidence that's upsetting."

"This is a pain in the you know what."

Ed: "Is it worth it?"

And now time for our history lesson.

Ed again: "The first known juries developed in Ancient Greece, 400 years before the birth of Christ."

Hold it now. Why are we bringing Christ into this? Separation of church and state, anyone?

Anyhow... some Aristotle, some Romans, some choir music. Charlemagne. The English legal tradition came over to America. They tried to punish Peter Zenger for publishing newspapers but jury refused to find him guilty. It was the first movement toward the independence of juries. Women got the right to serve starting in 1878.

Meanwhile, the woman behind me had been on her cell phone for the past ten minutes, talking very loudly and completely ignoring the video. Maybe women shouldn't have the right to serve after all.

The jury assures the right to a fair trial and stands for the participation of We the People. Thanks, Ed.

They showed a clip from Perry Mason as Ed talked about what a rich source of entertainment the legal system has been for the popular culture. Someone's toupee gets ripped off his head. The woman on the phone is still talking.

And we're back in the courtroom, but Ed Bradley has been replaced by Diane Sawyer, another exciting expenditure of taxpayer dollars. "Don't look for quick and simple solutions," she said. "A case is like theater. We don't know how it'll turn out." Well, in good theater. But theater's scripted. I'm not sure I support the analogy 100%. But I know what they're trying to say.

Now we get to meet a sample jury, composed of actors who answered the call for "ordinary looking people of all races and ages."

"If you are excused, it is in no wat a reflection of your intelligence and integrity."

"It may seem like you're just sitting around, but in fact you're playing an indispensable role."

The fake defense attorney on the video answered the call for "woman with extreme New York accent who likes to scream."

"You are most likely to find it fascinating, no matter the case you sit on."

Okay, now Ed and Diane have left and the new narrator is Judith Kaye, chief judge of the state of New York. She's got some exciting news about jury service in New York.

"Some of our courthouses are younger than the average juror!"

"We've added new lists to the jury pool so everyone has a chance to serve!"

"No automatic exemptions!"

"More than 450,000 people serve on juries every year in New York State -- that's almost half a million people!" Is that so!

"Less sequestering!"

"More attention to your needs!"

"Less waiting!"

"More impact than voting!"

"Seize the power!" Uh, is this a call for jury nullification?

This whole section felt like a campaign commercial for Judith Kane. I don't know if she's elected, but if she is, I'm not voting for her next time.

So the video ended, and the friendly man started reading us some instructions. First he wanted to make sure we were all in the right place. For the first of perhaps a dozen times, he told us to make sure our summons card was "what we call purple and white -- that's white with a purple stripe." Every time he said it, it was never just "purple and white." It was always "what we call purple and white." Now, I don't know if this is always the case, but what they called purple and white was actually purple and white, so it didn't need the clarification. If it was actually orange and green, but they liked to call it purple and white, then I understand. But it was purple and white, no question about it. So saying "what we call purple and white" just made the guy sound color blind.

"If your card does not say today's date, 11/16/05, please come up to the front." Ten people got up. "No sir, that IS today's date. Please have a seat."

"Put your social security number in the spaces provided, ONE NUMBER PER BOX." I'd love to see someone who tried to squeeze all nine numbers into one box. Really.

Sign that we're trying to build too much self-esteem in the jury pool: "Please write your occupation in the space marked occupation. Everyone has an occupation. Whether you're a housewife, a doctor, a bus driver, a student, unemployed, retired, or disabled. Do not leave the space blank or write 'none.' Everyone has an occupation." Well, no. "Unemployed" is not an occupation. It's a condition. Hopefully a temporary condition. Maybe a status. But not an occupation. Housewife too. Possibly not an occupation. But the court says otherwise.

"What are your regular days off, and your regular work hours?" Well, if I was answering honestly I'd probably be in big trouble, so I made something up that sounded sensible. I don't know what my regular working hours are. I write sometimes. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes less. What I really wondered about were these people whose occupation was unemployed. What are their days off? Is a day off from being unemployed mean a day you go and work? I really do wonder about that.

So now they listed off some reasons why people could be excused, and told people to go to another room if they fit any of these categories:

"The date on your jury summons is not 11/16"
"Your jury summons is not what we call purple and white"
"You are here and do not have a jury summons" (tourists?)
"You have two or more jury summons"
"You are not a resident of Brooklyn"
"You are not a citizen of the United States" (3 people left)
"You are the parent or guardian of children under the age of 14, do not work at a full-time job, and must pick your children up from school" (TONS of people left)
"You have been convicted of a felony" (2 men left)
"You have served as a juror in less than 4 years" (I wrote down what they said. Let's not quibble with the grammar)
"You cannot serve due to medical reasons" (3 very healthy looking people sprinted out the door as fast as they could)
"You are a full-time student with classes today, not tomorrow, today"

Then they told us the exciting news that if we were still in the jury room at the end of the day, we could go home and not come back. Everyone was very excited. It was to be short-lived.

After about a half hour, they came in and read the names of about 50 people, out of the hundred or so in the room. They all went to one courtroom. A half hour later, they came back and read the rest of our names. We went to another courtroom. Part 29. Judge Collini.

Judge Collini read us some stuff about how important it is to serve as a juror, and then he told us some more stuff that he said wasn't on the sheet. He did make me feel bad for not wanting to be there. I admit that. Then he explained the case. A guy is accused of narcotics possession. The witnesses will be police officers. If we have a problem with police officers, any bias that may affect us, or any good reason we think should excuse us, he asked everyone with any issues to line up against the wall, and he'd talk to them one at a time. I don't have any issues. At this point, I'm there, I may as well try and make this interesting and serve on a case. I'm not actively trying to get out of it, I just like complaining. But about half the people there did get up, and we could hear them say stuff about having family problems or work problems and the judge made most of them sit back down. A guy with a flight the next day got to leave, and a guy with some criminal record got to leave. Then the court officer put all the names into a bingo ball machine and pulled out one at a time until they filled the jury box with 20 people. I was not one of the 20 selected. They each were asked some questions about whether they'd ever been a victim of a crime, knew any police officers, what their occupation was, whether they were married or single, had any bias against anything relevant... and, my favorite question, whether they knew any lawyers. Hardly anyone did. I was surprised. So, a few people got excused as the judge asked them questions, and each time someone left, they picked another name to take that seat. I was not picked.

The judge finished his questioning and told us to go to lunch, and then when we came back at 2:20, the lawyers would question the potential jurors. And they needed the rest of us who hadn't been picked, in case they have to excuse people and need to fill the spaces. So I went to lunch, found a bizarre vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, which wasn't very good, got back at 2:00, and sat in the hallway with everyone else, waiting for the judge to call us back in. And sat. And sat. At 3:20, the court officer came out and said we should go home and come back tomorrow at 9:45 to continue.

So I go back tomorrow, even though I'm not on a case and I'm guessing I won't be, since that "do you know any lawyers" question should probably knock me out. But I suppose I'll see.

More "boring tales from court" just 24 hours from now... Of course, just over 9 hours from now, right before I leave, I guess I'll get to find out my bar exam result. So, if I get through on the web page before I leave at about 9:15 (I have a hunch the page might be a little overwhelmed, but I guess I'll see), I will post my result. And then I can come home to lots of e-mails telling me how dumb I was for not studying or how smart I was for not studying, depending on the result. I've prepared my family to expect that I failed, because it's more fun that way. So the other result will just be a happy surprise.