27 June 2007

Law and Ogre

Today was my first jury duty experience ever.

I'll be forty next year, and somehow I've dodged this particular bullet all my adult life. They say it has something to do with voter registration records, and maybe that's the rub. I've been a lifelong militant non-voter until just last year, so the lesson is simple: Keep your damn head down. Snipers take many forms.

Washington DC's Moultrie Courthouse (pictured above) is a perfect example of America's obsession with the stark, sterile modernism of 1960's concrete architecture. It's a disgrace, like many of the architectural eyesores that pollute southwest DC (L'enfant Plaza, etc)...

ehh, forget the architecture. This is about Jury Duty. Stay focused.

The check-in line of jurors was the most visibly miserable and pissed-off bunch I've ever seen. It looked like an Army inductment line full of suicidal draftees: Are we about to be shipped off to Iraq, to have our heads (or worse) blown off for that Texan fascist in the White House? Am I in the wrong line?

Inducted? Perhaps. I'm now "Juror no.484" and promptly called in for selection on a case involving a young fellow and allegations of possession-with-intent-to-distribute, something about un-registered firearms, etc. Typical evening news stuff. The (disarmingly likeable) judge interviewed each of us and presto: I'm invited back at 2pm to play more games in this sterile, pinewood sandbox of tension...

Overheard in the courtroom cafeteria:
Insectoid and effeminate male attorney chatting with co-worker over a tossed salad,
"I'm allergic to EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD, okay?"

Thunderclouds have rolled overhead and my window's view of 6th Street is sepia tinted with the threat of rain. No, wait..... there it is. A light sprinkle sends the Judiciary Square crowd running like rabbits.

2:00 arrives, which means I can finally escape this godforsaken bullpen/waiting room with its 6 (six!!!) televisions bolted to the ceiling, ensuring no escape from "A Beautiful Mind." I'm sure it's a fine movie, but a bit heavy for this place.

No matter. Back to the action.

Okay, so I admint my total, gagging ignorance about the Jury Duty experience. Some of you have been through this meat-grinder dozens of times. Fine. Indulge a brother a moment of wild discovery here.

We filed back to our seats in courtroom 313, and the jury selection process really got rocking.

A preliminary jury is selected from the panel, then mercilessly shuffled as the attorneys edit the choices in a creepy poker game of sorts. Makes one feel like a pregnant sow in the state fair 4-H tent. Each attorney gets a turn to tweak the jury by pulling bodies out and substituting others from the panel. The lawyers pass their selections back and forth on a tattered sheet of paper, then to the judge. The rejected sit down and the new ones take their place. The attorneys squint at us, burrowing into our brains and trying to get a sense of the mix.

I began to wonder if they were actually working, or simply assembling fantasy football teams.

For an added dose of surrealism, we have the court recorder: She's a frail bird of a woman, typical of the sort seen in TV legal dramas, except... no stenotype machine! That mysterious device that court recorders have used since the stone age...Gone!

In its place is a Dell laptop and some speech-to-text software which the recorder uses by repeating everything into a microphone. This microphone is embedded in a soundproofed cone, like a rubbery gas mask. The effect is very strange, and looks like the poor woman is eating raw oats out of a cart-horse's nosebag.

Anyway. The final jury was selected, and by a strange miracle, I was released. It was close, though. I was "voted off the island" just one round before the jury-selection game was over. Hip-hip! Here's to freedom!

The judge was careful to say to the entire panel, words to the effect of "uh, don't take it personally if you get the brush-off." No problem, dude. It must've been my patented anti-social scowl, and the blood capsules I keep in my cheek pouches for this very thing...

One never knows.


Anonymous said...


Arjewtino said...

I had an incredibly similar experience tw years ago. The woman to my left was the last juror selected and I, along with the rest of the judicial victors, were let go.

Great post, very well-written.

DistrictAutocrat said...

I just googled DC jury duty and came across your post. I am currently posting via my iPhone while waiting in the Hell Lounge since 8 am. And the woman who came in at 1030 is complaining about lunch already.

I am jealous that you were called so quickly. Not a one person has been called. And, topping it off I am sitting through the orientation video for the second time.

I'll take your advice and never register again. Hell!

Potential DC Juror said...

I also Googled "DC jury duty" and found your post as well. This is my first time being called to jury duty in DC (I was called to serve a day in my hometown about nine years ago, but luckily I wasn't selected to a jury) and I just want to be prepared. I hope I once again don't get called to serve on a jury. Fingers crossed.

This is a dumb question, but do they have people come in on Saturday? (Stupid, I know.) I hope not!