I’ve always disliked the feeling of being in a bubble, whether work or social or otherwise, which is probably why I like airports and New York City, and which is especially why after having one day of jury duty, I really took a liking to the whole process.
Like airports, reporting for jury duty to me meant the excitement being temporarily dislodged from my workaday life and put into a world full of people from all walks, getting to meet and talk to new people, and being involved in a process that inspires one to truly appreciate that we live in a society where there is the constitutional right to a trial by a peer jury. There is nothing like hearing the names of people read by the juror announcer to remind you of how diverse Brooklyn is.
It is also filled with so many quotidian sources of amusement, some of which I will detail below.
First, a spotlight to the court’s late 80s or early 90s looking vending machines:
I was very impressed not only with how smoothly the whole operation is run, but also with how comfortable and enjoyable they made it, from having us sit in decent chairs to having free, high-quality wifi. Because of that, I got a lot of work done and the day passed quickly.
They even had some hammy guy reading the juror announcements and instructions into a microphone.
He put his heart, soul, and comedic instincts into it. If he isn’t an aspiring standup, he should be. Here were some of the good lines he had:
You might be thinking, “there is no sane way in the world any lawyer will pick me. ‘For people who are thinking that: I am talking to you. The story you concocted on the train will not work.’
[Saying that you are prejudice against everything] is the quickest way to be held in contempt of court. Do not play yourself and tell an attorney or clerk that you are prejudiced against everything.
He made a big point of explaining why we couldn’t leave during the day except during the lunch hour unless we were going outside for a ten minute smoke break. He emphasized his zero tolerance about leaving the courthouse for any reason and that if we did leave and came back and our name had been called, he would have no mercy.
If at 11 o'clock you come to me with a cappucino from Starbucks asking me if your name was called, I will mark you absent.
Do not walk around Fulton Street and go into Macy’s.
He continued to elaborate
You may be asking, "Why can I go outside and have a cigarette but can’t go outside to get something to eat and drink? Especially if I don’t smoke?”
Some of you would want to go to the diner near your house, have a full course breakfast, go to your house and watch Jerry Springer…now jurors, that may sound crazy but it has happened.
At one point he told us he was going to give us the phone number of the court and that we should write it down. Then he started reading: “917” and stopped suddenly. “I just started accidentally giving you my cell phone number.” That had the whole room cracking up.
He made much hay of the fact that he was almost undoubtedly and despite his best efforts going to mispronounce some names today.
He told us it is illegal to Facebook or tweet any aspect of your jury service. He said if we do it is a crime subject to imprisonment. He then began to disabuse the people in the jury pool who are thinking…
I am not his Facebook friend, I don’t follow him on Twitter nor does he follow me…
But the court would find out, he said.
Eight of you have Facebook-ed or Tweeted something I said during this orientation. Don’t worry how I know that. There’s an app for that.
That last line got uproarious applause. Then he began reading some of the tweets he claimed had gone up during the announcement period:
There is no effin way i’m staying here to five oclock #hellno #hellno #hellno
He really does not look like a judge to me
I really wonder does he rememorize all that.
The announcer’s response to that last tweet: “Jurors there is no such word as re-memorize.”
Unfortunately our announcer was not around for too long. Once he was done telling us how to fill out our forms, he left. I waited for the rest of the morning, mostly doing work and enjoying the quiet. They had one of those awesome instant coffee machines where you can get cafe mochas and hot chocolate in small cups, so I took advantage of that.
I talked to a few very nice people. One of them was a man originally from North Carolina who now lives in Fort Greene. When I told him that I could hear that he still had some of the south in his voice, he commented that maybe it is the kindness. And then he told me he heard that in my voice too.
Then there was my neighbor sitting next to me throughout the day who had like me lived in Chicago at one point in his life. Neither of us were called for questioning by the time lunch rolled around, and we wondered whether that was a good or bad thing and had our theories. It may be good because they’re probably largely done with calling people, but it could be bad because if we get called at the end of the day, we’ll have to come back tomorrow. I wouldn’t have minded except that I started taking a writing class at Columbia that I really don’t want to miss much of and have to withdraw from.
At lunchtime, I had planned to go to Shake Shack and get a Chicago style dog, but then I saw that a Potbelly’s–another place that reminds me of Chicago–was open across from court, so I went there instead. It used to be one of my favorite places to get lunch when I worked in D.C. I know a few have moved into NYC, but where I work, in Washington Heights, is wanting for food choices, so I decided to take advantage of the one day I had to go to Potbelly’s.
I ate there and walked back to the courthouse in the winter cold. Again there was a line stretching out into the cold for getting through security. As the line was moving, I was listening to two guys behind me, around my age, talking about what was wrong with the Spanish economy. Then one of them was saying how they would not start the questioning again until every single juror was back in the central jury room. The other responded:
Well, the wheels of justice move slowly, but it’s for a reason.
I went back into the central jury room and took my same seat as that morning. I noticed the same people in the seats around me and was a bit delighted by how we had so quickly settled into a routine.
The two men I had met that day each told me they had served on a jury once. The man in line said that the judge told him at the end of the trial that he was “intense” and seemed to take the process really seriously. My seat neighbor said that he had been impressed with how everyone took the privilege seriously and rendered a fair verdict. He described how the cop’s story in the case he sat on didn’t add up, so they found a man not guilty.
One thing I like about Americans is that although in many ways we are a pretty frivolous people, we take a few things very seriously almost without question.
The afternoon passed as quickly as the morning, and then at five o'clock our wonderful announcer returned to tell us he was going to release us early.
And I think that’s a good place to end it.
Oh, except I did not get picked–not even for questioning–which I feel somewhat sad about since I won’t have the opportunity again for eight years,
I kind of hoped that I would have been called to serve, as I imagine it would probably be a very interesting and unparalleled experience and I could have met some interesting people, as I was already starting to today.
Well, see you in eight years, New York State court system. As they say: that’s all she wrote!