I like it here…
Somewhere, Don Was is spinning in his grave, but I’m stuck in the Washington County Courthouse waiting to get out of jury duty.
To be clear, I’m not one of the cranks who thinks we have way too much government. I think government provides critical services that the private sector would ignore or monetize beyond reason. I am, however, a crank who thinks that government doesn’t spend much time thinking about how well it does things.
Jury service is like taking a Master’s class on inefficiency.
To begin, my initial experience of receiving my summons is complicated by my absence from the area on my service date. I’m given the choice of a month when I will be available. Wow, I’m sure my schedule will be perfectly clear given that granularity. So of course they choose a date that prevents me from travel to GMT West, an event that somehow always runs smack dab into some conflict or other for me. And, of course, the authorities get fussy when you want to change the date again, so here I am instead of getting ready to go to Hanford, CA.
My number is called the night before, along with 330 of what are soon to become my closest friends. My summons tells me to be in the orientation room at 7:30am, and even though I know this is a fucking lie because this is not my first rodeo, I get up at a time normally reserved for leaving on a business trip and make the trek across the entire county to get to the courthouse.
And why do I leave so early? First of all, the county is mostly made of of bedroom communities, all oddly a few miles off of the highway, so there’s a lot of surface streets filled with Intel engineers heading to work. Down six flights of stairs at the parking garage we get out passes for, and we have to park n the upper floors. Personally, I view this as an exercise opportunity, so not a big deal for me, but a good chunk of these people are elderly, and I see no evidence of an elevator. I watch a few seniors negotiating the stairs as I go up the corkscrew to level six, and wonder who thought this was a good idea. It will not be the first time.
Once I get to the courthouse, and I am a full half hour early at this point, I encounter the reason I got here so early: the security line. Where is Global Entry for this shit. If you’ve never gone into a courthouse, but have gotten on a plane, imagine that no one in the line knows what to do, that the odds of someone having something really dangerous on them is about a bajillion times higher, and security is carrying live ammo.
There are about ten people in front of me, which takes 25 minutes to process. This does not bode well for a timely orientation session. And, in fact, no one does anything other than telling everyone the exact information that was in the mailing, but spread out over a few minutes. We are also informed, all 330 of us, that there is a paper issue with the restroom in the basement, where we are, so all of those seniors (and me) head for the one small, slow elevator to get to functioning loos.
At 8am, 30 minutes after orientation is supposed to start, a nice woman gets up and makes some lame jokes and tells people that if the haven’t followed instructions up to this point vis a vis parking, they get to fix the problem. Because we need people to follow instructions less when they get them, and more after the horse has left the barn. We resume with the actual orientation at 8:25, although as I type it’s a minute after that and no one has started any videos.
And the stupid thing is that I will not be on a jury today, or really any day, at least a petite 12-person jury. I’m an engineer by training, I have a Master’s degree, and I know that human memory is undependable at best. Any one of those things would make even a noob lawyer pull out their hair. It’s a shame they don’t just screen for that, as now it’s just an exercise in following instructions.
9:00 – The video is complete and as expected it was 50% there to get you excited about serving. There’s a shocking amount of misinformation, at least based on my previous experience as an empaneled juror 20 years ago. Voir Dire is not there to get the best jurors for the case, it’s a way to avoid the worst jurors for your case,
10:00 – I am enjoying The Blind Side while watching others selected for juries. While I guess it’s good I haven’t been called, at the same time there’s something to be said for being dismissed quickly. At least the place is looking less like a busy airport terminal.
I hit the head a few minutes ago, because I’ve learned to be proactive with these things, and when I got back they were calling numbers again. I believe they’ve called for half of the trials, so three left. One may not happen unless a judge becomes available, and I think they’re coming to a settlement in another, so this may end by lunchtime anyway.
Otherwise my next bit of excitement comes at 11am when I get to take my pills. I may have a Kind bar in the meantime.
10:45 – And now I have been selected to be in a pool. However, this is the last case of the day and they don’t need us back here until 1:30pm, so I have a nearly three hour lunch. Time for Rainy Day Games!
1:30 – I’m back, and after finally getting through the metal detector (they kept insist I must be wearing a belt, like you wear those snide your pants or something), I get back into the courthouse and we wait until 2:30 to go up to the courtroom. I am an early call, so I am in the jury box. Sitting next to me is a police officer, who, much like me, is frustrated that she has to spend time doing something that isn’t going to actually pan out. She also came straight from her shift to the jury room, so she wins the most put upon award.
The case is about smuggling contraband into a prison, in this case the contraband is heroin, although I’m less concerned about that. By far, the most dangerous thing in a prison is the people in it. It’s a Hispanic kid, looks like he’s 18 and bookish.
The attorneys treat us like we’re idiots who are unfamiliar with the basics of the legal system in the US. They are correct to do so, most of these people can’t answer simple questions like “How do you know if someone is guilty?” without considerable thought. Answer: If the evidence says they are, and the evidence is good. Some people take two minutes with this.
I did get my Memory Is A Tricky Thing comment is, although I went for the splattershot approach and confronted the ADA when he suggested the State has rights too. My response was that the State made up the rules, they don’t need rights, and other than the 10th Amendment I’m pretty sure there aren’t any in amp y founding document. Stuff like that.
So the time comes for challenges, where the attorneys pick someone they don’t want on the jury. First challenge, the cop. Second challenge, the guy who discussed being kicked out of a jury pool in New Mexico for saying that the defendant in a rape case was guilty before the trial even started. He also pointed out the man was African American. So the racist went second.
And then me. I take a certain amount of pride in that. I called the first three challenges as soon as voir dire questioning was done.
Understand, I think this is an important process, and it’s a vital civic duty, and I would love to participate if I could be on a jury with intelligent people, with lawyers who wanted people to get to the truth. Of course, none of that happens, at least with any regularity. The attorneys want notches in their belt so they can make DA or partner, the jurors just want to be doing anything that doesn’t involve thinking or understanding a situation. Making dinner for the kids is a higher priority for these people. How can they come to a decision when that’s just the thing between them and their lives and they’re ready to get past it right now?
The sad thing is that the justice system, in concept, is an amazing thing. The truth is much different, mostly because we are a small and petty species who fail to grasp how close civilization is to chaos if we don’t feed the institutions that keep structure and order in place. And our civilization at least pays lip service to things like freedom and liberty, which only makes it more difficult.
And it’s getting more difficult all the time.