Monday, April 25, 2011

All Rise

Today I fully intended to come home and write up this insanely long post about the day’s request -- A picture of something you wish you could change -- to say how much I wished I could change the fact that I was called to jury duty this morning. But you know something? It wasn’t all that bad after all.

I was originally called to serve last November, the notice came in September sometime, but with NaNoWriMo in November I knew there was no way I could get put on a trial and still finish a manuscript. So I promptly got online and learned that in Massachusetts you’re allowed to postpone your service for up to a full year. Sweet.

Taking winter considerations into account (and after this past winter’s insane snow I’m happy that I did!) I decided that moving it to April would be a smart move. When I had to get up at six o’clock this morning to get ready to go I was kicking myself that I hadn’t postponed it until this coming October. I would have been able to tell the court ‘oh sorry, I’ve moved’ but begrudgingly I showered and got dressed in my pretty business casual khakis, white collar shirt and purple corduroy jacket, zipped up my brown boots and headed out.

With a half hour to get there I anticipated a little traffic, it was eight o’clock in Boston on a weekday after all, but I made it to the courthouse and was parked by 8:12. With nothing else to do, school books, a big jug of water and snacks packed in a bag, I headed for the door.

It was locked. Guess they take that 8:30 thing pretty seriously because a couple other people were milling about out front, also ready to perform their civic duty. Within a couple minutes a court officer let us in and brought us through the metal detectors.

Unlike at the airport she didn’t ask me a word about my water or food, I wasn’t told to throw away my lighter or hand lotion. All she asked was ‘Is that a camera in your bag?’ I responded with a yes and she informed me I had to go put it in my car. I collected my stuff and headed out to the glove box about 900 feet back in the parking lot and thought ‘My cell phone has a camera, how am I allowed to keep that but not this?’ but I didn’t ask and just deposited the camera like the good citizen I am.

Back inside I was directed to the jury assembly room which was at the literal furthest point in the building from the front door. It was eerily quiet inside and all the doors to courtrooms or other offices were closed. As I traversed the incredibly brightly lit halls I was surprised to find that the appointments were not totally crusty but instead seemed fairly new and well taken care of. It didn’t smell like bodily fluid and no one was handcuffed to a bench. It was moderately encouraging but it certainly wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy either. But at least it didn’t smell.

I checked in with the court officer in the jury room and was given my little jury card. I was number eight, which struck me as an omen that I might just be in a stark, institutionally appointed room for infinity. Locating a seat among the other five or so people who must have entered during my camera incident I got settled and pulled out my forty pound text book so I could at least get some school work done while waiting to see what would happen.

At the dot of 9:00 the court officer announced to all of the potential jurors the basic rules of the day -- no cell phones in the courtroom, a Judge would be coming in to speak with us soon, then we’d watch a seventeen minute video about how to be a juror and we’d get a break -- and I went back to reading when she finished. At about 9:30 we heard ‘All rise!’ and in walked a Judge.

I knew she was a Judge not only due to the request to stand but also because of the black robe she was wearing, solidifying the part she was playing that day. It suddenly hit me as she said ‘Hi everybody! You all can sit down’ that a) Things were way more casual than they try to make you believe on TV and b) this was the first time in my life I’d ever been inside a courthouse.

That fact struck me as a little bit odd because as a late teen/early twenty something I had a friend who was, let’s just call him a bit of a rebellious spirit, and although I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a Bail Bondsman for the first time to get my friend out of the clink, I’d never gone to a trial.

I don’t think anyway, all those years are a little fuzzy.

At any rate, my heart began to race and I started to feel a little (read: a lot) nervous. Someone’s life as they knew it up to that moment might hang in my hands. It was all too much to take and I was totally freaked out.

So when the Judge finished speaking and asked if we had any questions, who do you think raised her hand? That’s right, me. And what do you think I asked?

‘If we are picked for a jury and sit for a trial, what do we do if we have to use the restroom?’

I couldn’t help it. Sorry but I have the bladder of a 76 year old and drink about 60 ounces of water a day so this was going to be the single most important thing she could ever answer as far as I was concerned. As soon as the words fell out of my mouth though I was taken back to seventh grade when I had to stand up in front of my Spanish class and give a presentation on the fly. My entire body flared red as I felt the other would-be jurors turn to look and see who asked about something so silly as having to pee.

But then one of them said ‘Hey that’s a great question’ and the judge not only answered with a straight face she echoed the sentiment of my peer. I sighed and returned to typical pale face as we were again instructed to rise when she left. I wondered if she got to do that at home too. How cool would that power be?

Now it was about 9:40 and the court officer came back in to let us know we were permitted a break until 10:15. Really? Geez, that was pretty cool! I’d packed up about 6 pieces of nicotine gum anticipating hours of entrapment. Instead of going to Dunkin Donuts with the rest of my peers (remember that part about having to pee? Yeah it would be all over after a second cup of coffee…) I went out front to have a smoke and text Matt about my uber brilliant question. He sent me back the text equivalent of a chuckle. I expected no less.

I arrived back a little earlier than requested and once everyone was back they played us the aforementioned movie.

It took every single ounce of my cynical, dry-wit being not to laugh out loud during the entire thing.

The movie was most definitely filmed in about 1982, if the awesome hairstyles and shoulder pads were any indication, and they could not have picked more cheezy people to read the script. You know that monotone voice that’s supposed to keep a person calm but if you listen really carefully can sound a little condescending? Yeah that’s how they sounded. It was like an infomercial for court.

There was one part where the monotonously enthusiastic woman was reading her scripted line and an awkward pause ensued, followed by the “humanization” of the male lawyer in the video when he took his glasses off the top of his head and put them on with an incredibly stern look that said “now you listen to me” before he started speaking. I am not lying, I know I heard someone across the room snicker. Wish I knew who it was, we’d probably get along great.

The video was of course informative as to how the process works, but I was so twisted up at this point thinking how I’m way too jaded and opinionated to sit on a jury that I was just doing my best not to hyperventilate.

The thing came to an end and almost within seconds we were being instructed to get our butts out of the chairs as the Judge made her way back to the front of our room again. Like good little students we continued to stand until she told us to “Go ahead and take a seat again’ while she explained that everything on the day’s docket had been resolved and as soon as the court officer came back we’d be free to go.

Now here’s the kicker. She had told us earlier that she predicted the sun to come out and wrapped up with ‘Now I’m not gonna call your boss, or your significant other or anyone to let them know that you got out of here early. I suggest you all go out and take advantage of enjoying this beautiful day off!’

Everyone laughed.

I got about three quarters of my reading for the week done while I waited for exactly two hours to be told I wouldn’t have to go through this again for three years if I didn’t want to so you know what? I’m taking her up on the offer.

You may be excused.


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4 comments:

Apryl said...

Yeah I live in MA and as a 32 year old have yet to be called for Jury Duty. And I am DYING to (I am mental, I'm aware...)

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Haha! While I was sitting there I was actually really torn, it would be cool to see how it all works but the thought of all the responsibility seemed like a LOT of pressure! It took me til almost age 38, you still have plenty of time :-) Thanks for checking out my blog!

Bridgete said...

This was really entertaining for me to read, since you know I've been in a courthouse plenty of times. And yes, most judges are really nice people and after the whole "all rise" thing, everything is usually really casual. Even in court, when the actual trial is not in progress, but the lawyers and the judge are working out some detail that the jurors don't need to see, that stuff is very conversational and chill.

Joan said...

Last October I had to fly to NC for a trial. Stressful, until I was done testifying, then it was interesting. Amazing what stress can do. I felt 100 pounds lighter after I was done.