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Friday, February 26, 2010

14 February 2010 journal page

Jury Duty Woes

I reported for Jury Duty or "Service" as they call it on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. I was there early (to make sure I had a parking space, got through security, etc...). I reported to the Courthouse on Hill St in Downtown L.A. (a different courthouse then the one hubby had to report to a couple of years ago). I took the elevator from the parking garage to the first floor. You have to get off of the elevator, go outside, get in the line that has NO ONE in it (there are two entrances-one is for jury duty, etc...), flash your jury paperwork and walk in through a metal detector. After that, you take a different elevator (in the same vicinity) to the 8th floor. Off of the elevator, you follow the signs to a rather large room. Walk into the room and pick up a piece of paper that asks three questions-
How you got there
Preferred method of transportation

You sit and you wait.

A little after 9, a Judge came out and gave a big long speech about how jury duty is Jury Service, a privilege, a part of the Constitution (really? I don't remember seeing it in there or the Bill of Rights), a right, a this, a that...Then we watched a video tape of happy jurors all thrilled to serve the call. (Can we insert rolled eyes here.) Then a woman came out and told us we had to fill out our paperwork (the rest of the info on the juror summons that came in the mail). All the while she explained that it was a part of the Constitution. It was this. It was that. If we had a financial hardship that we could come up to the window. (Now here's my rant. I'm self employed. I live pay check to pay check, like most of the working poor, and like most working class slobs in this country, If I don't work, I don't get paid. What about folks like me and folks whose employers do not pay for jury duty??? Guess what? They don't care. They don't give a rat's ass if you are working your ass off to pay the bills. They just want YOU. They want a body there. They don't care if you're pissed and not happy about being there.)

Tip #1: If you have a "financial hardship" don't bother to try to get off. Don't waste your time. Don't fill out the paperwork. They do not care.

So, the woman continued with her "lecture" (really, between her and the Judge, I felt like I was 12 and back in Middle School). She then gave a 10 minute spiel on just where to eat in the area.
She also told us that at that court house the average trial is 5 to 7 days. If you have a vacation coming up, you could see them (which would more than likely just end up in a postponement of your services). We were also told that if we were done with one trial that we could NOT leave (if it is the first day). That we had to come back up to the 8th floor and sign in again and that we could possibly be placed on additional trials throughout the day all the way up until 5 p.m. (WTF??)

In a nutshell, we arrived at the court house before the time they wanted us there (8:30 a.m.). We sat and waited. And WAITED. AND WAITED. until 11:30 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., they told us we could go to lunch but to be back at 1:30. WTF? If they didn't need us there (NO ONE was called until after lunch), why did we have to show up so damn early?? Which leads us to tip #2-

Tip #2: Bring a book. Bring a crossword puzzle. Bring something to do. Don't bring your knitting or scissors or anything like that because they will confiscate them (I spoke with a woman whose tiny manicure scissors were taken). There is free wireless in the room while you wait. There are also five computers, but I have heard that they don't always work. I saw several people using their laptops and the plugs in the room.

Lunch: There's tons of places to eat downtown, but really. I didn't want to have to go too far or have to go through security again. I went downstairs to the little snack shop (why don't they have a cafeteria in this building?) and picked up a sandwich that was decent (sandwich, cranberry juice, chips and snickers bar=a little under eight bucks). I ate my lunch. I walked around. I went on the computer for 20 minutes. I used the bathroom. I explored the "Lounge" in the woman's bathroom (not sure what it used to be, but now it's a storage area). I read a Noam Chomsky book. I did some journaling. I talked with some other jurors. I waited.

Oh, there is a TV, but since I don't have TV it made me crazy. Plus, the signal kept going in and out. It was all regular morning shows: news, crap, more crap, soaps and more crap.

At about 1:40, they started to call out names. There were about 35 names called, one of which was yours truly. "Shit." I said to the woman next to me. I would have been happier if I had just sat there until 5. Her name wasn't called and she was elated. (I should say had yet to be called. She could still be there as far as I know.)

The rather large group of us went down to the 6th floor. We stood outside of court room where we waited to be told what to do. A woman came out and did roll call and explained that we would come in and take a seat. We sat down and listened to the Judge explain what was going to happen. She was very elaborate in her explanations. She was thorough, but a bit theatrical (after all, it is a show, right)? The judge gave us a short explanation of what the case was. They asked if we knew her, the lawyers, the accused, the officers, etc... Then it started.

They picked 18 of us to go sit "in the box". I was the 15th person they called. They do not call you buy name, but by the last four numbers of your Juror ID.

Tip #3: If you're going to be called, you want to be called EARLY and not have to sit in the pool and wait. Trust me on this. Cross your fingers.

I went up, picked up the Questionnaire that was on my seat and sat down. The questionairre pertained to the case (which was a DUI).

They also ask you (the 18 jurors in the box) the following questions-
Residence (not street address, but city)
Former Occupation
Spouse's Occupation
Occupation of any other adults in the home
Child's Occupation
Have you ever been on a jury before, what kind and what happened?

Tip #4: Be honest. Answer everything as truthfully and as honestly as you can. You took an oath. Be honest. Be honest. Be honest.

Tip #5: Listen. Be aware of what the hell is going on. If you don't want to be there, now's the time to think hard about what you can say.

I answered all of the questions honestly. It was a DUI case (which I guess is the #1 thing in that Courthouse). They asked about 19 questions. I kept raising my hand. I raised it at least six times. I swear I made the Judge nuts. Here's the kicker. They will ask you if you can put aside your bias and be fair and impartial. Honestly, everyone has a bias. I happen to think that the laws are biased. I don't agree with all of them, but that's just me. So the words you want to memorize are:

Tip #6 (and it's the BIG tip): I can not be fair and impartial.

If you feel that way, say it and say it loud. Don't be soft and quiet. Be strong. They don't want idiots sitting in the box, but they also don't want people who are too smart. The lawyers want people whom they can easily persuade to their side of the case.

More here on this blog.

Tip #7: Try to read the questions and figure out if you can honestly answer any of them in a way that will NOT get you picked. For me that was easy. My Dad was in Law Enforcement. I had a bad experience with an LAPD officer (my ex neighbor was LAPD and he kicked my door in one time many years ago). Alcohol and DUI don't mix well with me so I spoke up honestly. I was a member of MADD (Mothers against drunk driving). I don't drink. I never have and there's a reason for it. To name a few things... So, be honest and answer truthfully.

Another tip,

Tip #8: Jury Nullification. Learn those two words. Memorize them. Lawyers hate those two words. What the hell is it? Well, the analogy that explains is best is would you have convicted a runaway slave back in the 1800's when slavery was a law and legal? If the answer is no, because you don't agree with the law, then that's one example of jury nullification.

More here and here.

I personally don't agree with the way things are set up, so I had jury nullification as a back up.
Call me a pinko Commie Socialist, but it's how I feel. Too many innocent people are put behind bars, or even worse-executed. I couldn't convict.

So, they went back and forth with the questions. At about 3 ish, we took a twenty minute break. The Judge tells us not to talk to each other about the case. She also explained that the lawyers, the accused, etc... were not allowed to even say "hi" to us, and that we shouldn't take it personally. What happened outside? I swear at least a 1/4 of the jurors started saying he looked guilty, etc... Oy.

We went back in at 3:20, after the bailiff did roll call. The questioning continued until we were dismissed at 4 p.m. and told to come back the next day at 10:30 a.m. The Judge told us we did not have to go up to the 8th floor, that we were to return to her court room on time tomorrow morning.

Day Two

I left the house around 9:15. I didn't want to be late and I was concerned about parking (a thing you always have to be concerned with in Los Angeles). Luckily, I had no reason to worry as there were plenty of parking spaces.

Tip #9: Don't lose your juror ID. For many reasons. One reason is that it grants you access to the parking lot below the courthouse and it's free. There are two entrances to the courthouse. One on Hill and one on Olive. Follow the signs for Juror Parking. Smile and flash your ID.

I repeated the whole process yesterday. I took the elevator to the 6th floor and sat on a cold bench in the cold halls and spoke with one of my fellow jurors. Another juror whom I had became friendly with showed up and we all started chatting. It turns out one of the jurors lives two streets down from me. How weird is that? Small world!

I was told by a good friend of mine what would happen. Well, she was right on everything (except for the part about people who weren't paid for jury duty being dismissed!) At 10:35, the lady came out and did roll call. One person wasn't there. Damnit! So, we had to wait. Every five minutes after that, the bailiff came out and asked if the person was there. At 10:50, the person showed up and was greeted with angry stares by their fellow jurors.

Tip #10: Be on time. Hell, be early if you can. Not only does this piss off the Judge, the lawyers, the Accused and the Bailiff, but it pisses off your fellow jurors. Remember, if you've phoned in and registered saying that you recieved the jury summons and then you don't show up, they WILL come knocking. So be on time!

We walked into the room. Now right off the bat, I knew something was up because they didn't have us sit in the jury box as we did before. They had us all sit together. The Judge said, I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is I broke my promise to you and kept you waiting. The good news is, the case has been settled (my guess is the guy plead something or other)." The Lady next to me asked me what that meant. I said it means we're FREE! We can go home. She stood up and hugged me and kissed my cheek.

The Judge told us to go upstairs to the 8th floor. You turn in your badge and the badge holder and you wait for about five, ten minutes. They call your name and give you a piece of paper saying the dates that you served.

You skip happily from the Courthouse knowing that they can't call your name now for another year.

You wait for your $15 check and $.30 something cents per mile check to show up in the mail.

(A friend told me that what happens is when you show up for the second day, the lawyers then ask you questions and dismiss people whom they don't want to serve on the jury. They then pick from the jurors who aren't sitting in the jury box, until they have twelve to serve and two alternates. After that, I have no idea what happens other then you're sitting on a jury! I hope never to know!)


Katxena said...

You're right that the constitution does not say "you must serve jury duty." It does say that all criminal trials must be jury trials (see Article III), the 6th amendment spells out a bit more what those juries should look like and the 14th amendment extends this requirement to the states. Perhaps you are a "strict constructionist" and don't agree that the amendments are part of the constitution (a position I take issue with since the constitution allows for itself to be amended), but even the constitution itself includes the jury process. We certainly don't have a perfect system, and I agree with almost all of your criticisms of it, especially as it applies to the poor people, people of color, and women. But jury trials are an improvement over the way the old world did it -- which was to have judges and lords decide criminal cases. I'd rather have my fate decided by a jury of common people (even if they are a carefully chosen and sorted subset of people who weren't "clever" enough to get out of jury duty) than by the elites.

Vel said...

Several years ago I had the privilege (yes, privilege) of serving as a juror for six weeks. While I was working full time, working a part-time job and going to school part-time. Oh yeah, and cleaning a house etc. Nope, I didn't want to get picked but out of the 1,000 people they called in for the case (yes, 1,000) I was juror #5. I went in thinking how am I ever going to do this and everything else too. But I figured it out and I'm glad I did. It was a learning experience. It was uncomfortable (wood chairs, no padding), expensive (no free parking or mileage for me) and at times incredibly boring but oh my god, what an experience that was. I learned so much about the court system and what jerks people can be and how even though you think the woman sitting next to you is really cool she might have some really messed up thinking when it comes to doctors neglecting the needs of a pregnant women just because she's poor. Honestly, if I had it to do all over again I'd gladly sit on that jury again. Really opened my eyes.

And ya know, years later I was in a bad car accident, injured, my neck and back hurt every minute of every day...and I went to court. The jury didn't feel my injuries were serious enough because, as a couple of them put it, they didn't feel sorry for people who sue, no matter the circumstance. And some of them checked their watches every hour. And some rolled their eyes every time one of the lawyers spoke. This experience opened my eyes too. While I can sympathize with people having true hardships (self-employed, employers won't pay wages etc., childcare issues) it's just really unfortunate that so many people don't take it seriously. I'm really glad I did.

ps. Please don't think I'm dissing you...trust me, I understand where you're coming from. And I like what you said about being honest. That's really the key. :)

T and J said...

I had no idea they could make you stay after serving the first day.
That's messed up.
I thought once you served 1 trial- that you were free to leave.
That's scary that you were told to go back up stairs again
Talk about being held captive
I wonder how our jury system is compared to other countries.

melle said...

I can't believe they need a jury for a DUI. I thought the big show and the jury was reserved for serious murder trials and things like that. Maybe it's just that different here.

Kelly Kilmer said...

Tasha-the average length of a trial in L.A. is 5 to 7 days. So serving on one trial means you have to come back for several days.

Julbie said...

Here's my experience last time... this year, I'm ready for anything.


T and J said...

I meant to say I was surprised that if you serve a 1 day trial on your 1st day of jury duty - that they can make you come back again a 2nd day to see if you'll get picked for another trial.
That's not right.
If you serve 1 trial on the first day (if you got somehow insanely lucky) then you've fulfilled your duty.
They should not be able to make you come back a 2nd day to see if you can get picked for another trial.

Sandy said...

This sounds like a big huge headache to me. I've never been called for jury duty and I think if I were and made it to the box I'd just tell them I'm a firm believer in the death penalty no matter what. That should be a way to get me excused really quickly. Plus my Husband works with the police dept. so that may make a difference with them wanting me on their jury too. Our town is so small it's really hard to get an unbiased jury because everyone knows everyone's business and what happened before it makes the paper here. Most of the time if it's a big case they move it.

So glad you're done and I know you're glad you're done too.

Beth said...

Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. I live in a smaller town, and there are similarities in waiting, uncomfortable benches, etc., but I was glad to serve. I'd like to think that the 'system' works most of the time. The case I sat on was a waste of time, but the guy was entitled to a jury trial and while most of the jurors clearly didn't want to be there, I think it was fair. I had a really terrible cold, sat next to my niece in the jury box, and my brother and his wife are Lieutenants in the local PD....very surprised they kept me. I guess I made the best of it, the cold was the worst part, I also ate at the cafeteria as parking is horrific...and the day we finished I came out to a flat tire!!!! Okay, looking back it was less than wonderful, but I really felt that I was doing my job as a citizen....I wish you had had a better experience Kelly!! Beth

Anonymous said...

I used to feel this way about jury duty but last year I got on as an alternate and ... I found it to be one of the more moving things I've done! It happened to be during the Obama inauguration and the judge/bailiff gave us a TV and started the trial late so we could watch it in the jury room. I had tears in my eyes watching the inauguration with strangers on a jury...all of us feeling very patriotic! It was very memorable.