Jury Life pt. 1: The Gathering of 45A

Monday morning two weeks ago, I, along with about fifty other shuffling citizens in group 45A, made the bleary trek to report to the Hall of Justice at the ungodly hour of 9 am. I chose to take the bus to town, as the Web site implied that parking was a hassle.

I tromped down to the bus stop in a light rain (the weather lingered an ENTIRE HOUR longer than my phone said it would), loaded up the transit app that gives real-time bus updates, loaded the other app to purchase my bus tickets, and then stood in the rain wearing a sweater and cargo shorts.

While I waited two men all bundled up in brightly-colored foul-weather gear, hoods pulled up over their heads, walked by. They both smiled at me, and when I smiled back one gestured at the clouds overhead and said, “Something something Amigo! Something something something!” and laughed.

I laughed also, shook my head sadly and said, “Yeah…” Even though I understood only one word he spoke, I knew exactly what he was saying. We parted friends. Or at least, amigos.

But honestly, unless hypothermia is an issue, getting wet doesn’t bother me that much. It’s an attitude I consciously adopted from a good friend of mine who went to college in Washington and didn’t carry an umbrella during gentle rains, to the bemusement of his peers. That attitude was reinforced when I started biking to work, and I realized that rain was not a big deal except for the mess — and that’s what fenders are for.

But I digress. The bus ride was uneventful. After I had I reached the Hall of Justice, set off the metal detector with my belt buckle, nearly mooned the people in line behind me when I took my belt off, and finally got through and regathered, I went up to the second floor to discover a long line of new jurors.

The line moved quickly; when I reached the front the barcode on my jury-summons postcard was scanned and I was handed a piece of paper and instructed where to go to do my next bit of waiting. I was not asked for any sort of identification. I guess Jury Imposters are not a prevalent problem. Or are they? How would we know? Is someone out there searching mailboxes for jury summons so that they can go and decide the fates of strangers? Or perhaps there’s an underground industry of Jury-Substitutes that people hire so they don’t have to report themselves.

I found my way to the Jury waiting room, which was already overfilled and people were still coming in. Department 45 was not the only courtroom seating a new jury that day, it appeared. It was warm in that room, and there weren’t enough seats, but I am still healthy enough to stand for a little while at least. But you know what happens when you pack a bunch of people from different communities into a room like that? I’ll tell you in a future episode. (Hint: that episode may or may not be called “Jury Plague”.)

After a while the announcement came for group 45A to proceed from the waiting room, down the stairs, across a walkway to the brown elevators, and back up to the second floor in the other wing to Department 45.

Yeah, the courtrooms are called “departments” at the Hall of Justice. I think that’s odd, too.

So all the people in group 45A stood and filed from the waiting room. I just went with the flow, and when the flow bypassed the brown elevators to find the stairs, I was good with that. It would have taken half the morning to get us all up in the elevator — one of the two brown elevators was in use to move prisoners.

When I say “all the people in Group 45”, I actually mean “all but one.” As we filed into Department 45 we checked in and then the bailiff had us fill the seats in the gallery in an orderly fashion. When that exercise was over, there was an empty seat. One potential juror was missing. So we waited. And waited.

After a couple of phone calls it was established that our erstwhile peer had got lost on the way from the waiting room to the courtroom, and had gone back to the waiting room without telling anyone about it. He was given new instructions and sent on his way once more. “He’ll be right here,” the bailiff said. The bailiff was a nice guy, but this time he was wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a seat that was low to start with, and had a squishy seat. Next to me is a woman (who would become Juror #1) who was almost a foot taller than I was when we were standing up, and now the top of my head didn’t even reach her shoulder. I am not a tall man, but I don’t need to be reminded of that quite so forcefully.

Another call. More paging. Once more the stray juror was tracked down. The jury-handlers, already struggling with the surge of new jurors that day, found someone to walk 45A’s last member right to the door of Department 45.

Finally we were all assembled, and we were ready to begin. What followed was a discussion that was as disturbing as it was interesting.

Tune in next time for Jury Life Pt. 2: Voir dire!

3