Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Done: My Duty

On Monday, I was called to jury duty. Here in Multnomah County (yes, Tracey, I hear you, Multnomah is a weird word) we are down to one day of jury duty every 24 months, unless you are called to a trial. In which case, you are there for the duration of the trial, of course. Or, unless you are called to serve on the Grand Jury for which your service lasts for 30 days. So, at 9am Monday morning when they called the 30 names for potential grand jury members I held my breath. Ouch, 30 days. No way, I have a plane ticket to go to sunny Arizona next week and see my college roommate/maid-of-honor and I am not giving that up. Well, my name wasn't called for the grand jury--phew! This is actually the third time I have been called to jury duty since we moved into this county in 1993. The other two times I sat in the jury waiting room all day and never got called, for anything. The jury waiting room at the Multnomah County Courthouse is a large rectangular space with pale blue walls and big long rows of black faux leather upholstered chairs facing a podium in the front of the room. There are a couple of flat screen TVs, a small seating area with about four leather sofas, a small kitchen area with microwave oven and vending machines, and at the far end--by the bathrooms--some personal desk spaces like they might have had in a school library in the 70's. I was prepared to sit there again, all day, so I brought with me a book (Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Piccoult), a sketch pad (to sketch potential subjects for a couple of oil paintings I am going to paint for our soon to be newly remodeled family room) and my trusty iphone (so I could bother people who were trying to work and maybe chat with a few people via Facebook).

So, I arrived at the courthouse on time, at 8:00am (which is AMAZING since that is WAY before my normal morning time to be anywhere). Usually, if I can get to work by 11:00am on any given morning, I am doing GREAT. Plus the fact that it was gloriously sunny and projected to be above 75 degrees (so rare this time of year in Portland). I'm surprised anyone showed up for jury duty. But the room was filled with anxious potential jurors, or so it seemed. I sat down, opened my Odwalla Chocolate Protein drink and got out my book and started reading. My reading was quickly interrupted by the jury waiting room clerk introducing a judge that was going to talk with us about the importance of jury duty. Well, yeah, at that point we are already there, a captive audience, and I wasn't sure her passion for the US justice system was going to be all that compelling to the rest of us. After she gave her "isn't America's jury system great" speech (visions of OJ Simpson's trial were flashing in my head), the clerk got back up and told us all about our breaks... basically ten minute breaks every hour (you could hear a collective sigh of relief from the smokers in the room) and a 1 1/2 hour lunch break from 12-1:30pm. Not bad.

Back to my book. Well the once quiet room of people not really knowing what their day was going to be like and probably too tired to think about idle chatter, all the sudden woke up and the room turned into a whirlwind of voices. Friendly, and sometimes loud, conversations were bursting all over the room. One row in front of me and about 5 seats over a 30 something male began talking quite animatedly to the 40 something bleach blonde sitting next to him about how his recent divorce had made him a very happy and "free" man and that he was still hung over from his celebratory night out with the boys on Sunday. The woman did not seem all that interested, but he just kept right on talking anyway. The tall skinny fellow next to me was already on his second doughnut and coffee from the coffee cart in the lobby of the courthouse and all the sugar and caffeine was really just giving his legs way to much energy for the situation. Just about the time I thought I couldn't handle his buzz anymore, a 20 something girl with a pony tail and hot pink sweater sat down and virtually blocked my easy exit from the row. She was calling in to her workplace to see who would be working with her that evening, "because after being cooped up in this dreary jury room all day, she wasn't about to put up with Sue and her shenanigans". After finding out she would, indeed, be spending her shift with Sue she proceeded to call two other friends to bitch and gossip about Sue. It was pretty clear from my vantage point that both these other people desperately needed or just wanted to get off this phone conversation, but "hot pink sweater" girl just wasn't letting go. Meanwhile, the entire time she was on the phone, she snapped her gum and filed her nails. Sounds really cliche, but it is true. I wonder what her nighttime job was??? There was also the ongoing personal phone call by the jury clerk up at his desk which could be clearly heard by the more than 200 people in the room. Obviously he did not care much that all these people could hear that he spent more time on personal phone calls than working, just perpetuating the whole "government employee" stereotype.

When they called for our first break, "hot pink sweater" girl burst from her seat and shot out the door and this gave me the opportunity to quickly switch seats. Everyone filed promptly back into the jury waiting room when their 10 minute break was over, and as people often do, they took the same seats they had been in before the break so I was sure to choose a seat far away from "hot pink sweater" girl and a seat no one had been sitting in before break. At PRECISELY 10am one prospective juror turned on the television to The Price is Right (morning game show TV addict perhaps...). I had forgotten that Bob Barker retired and Drew Carey had taken his place. I really don't think Drew is a proper replacement for Bob. I mean, as I texted to Michael from the jury room, I just don't picture Drew sleeping around with Bob's beauties and he really is just way too nice to the crazy contestants that run up and plant a big kiss on him. Bob was sort of passively sarcastic and I really liked that about him. I have probably watched the show six times in my adult life although I do admit to watching it whenever I stayed home from school sick as a child. There just wasn't that much on TV back then. So, about 15 minutes into The Price is Right, they call for the first jury pool and my name is on the list.

I was excited and apprehensive all at the same time. This meant I did not have to sit in the waiting room all day, but it also meant I may be assigned to a trial and would have to come back to the courthouse tomorrow. We were instructed to head to a courtroom on the 5th floor, so of course, we all headed straight for the elevators. Six of us got on the first available elevator, then no one else would get on. Seriously, the elevator held like 10 people. I said, hmmm, that's strange... and the guy standing next to me said (and I kid you NOT, a perfect stranger) "they took one look at you and decided not to get on" WHAT? I thought, oh great, this is going to be a fun day. Then that same guy (who I will nickname "hate crime guy" for reasons that will become clear a little later) was seated right next to me in the courtroom for the jury selection process. I decided I was going to give "them", "the court" as little information about me as possible, but they asked a lot of their own questions like how much school do you have, where do you work, what is your job, who do you live with, what is their education, what is their job, what are your hobbies, do you drive, have you ever been the victim of a crime, etc....... The case was an assault case. The gay owner of a bar in SW Portland had allegedly assaulted one of his customers after the customer had allegedly made some anti-gay remarks. Interestingly enough, we found out my new best enemy sitting next to me had been assaulted in California in a grocery store a few years back, a victim of a hate crime (hmmm, I cannot imagine why this would happen to poor ole him). When everything was said and done, the guy sitting next to me "hate crime guy" got chosen for the jury and I did not. As a matter of fact, all the people that were chosen had had some story to tell or some strange circumstance that had APPEARED to make them undesirable, but which, in fact, must have actually made them desirable. I guess I just don't understand the jury selection process. So, all the rejected jurors were sent back down to the waiting room and even though they told us that part of the process is to have a large jury pool to choose from and more than half would not be chosen and we should still feel really good about being there even if we weren't chosen, you still leave wondering why some people get chosen over others.

By the time I got back to the waiting room, it was time for lunch break and off I went to one of my favorite lunch spots: Blue Plate (Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain). Even though our office is only about 3 blocks from the courthouse (therefore I was choosing from basically the same restaurants I can eat lunch at any day of the week) I don't normally go out for lunch. Since I work a 3/4 day, I usually have Geo or Michael pick me up something while they are out or I bring my lunch from home and eat at my desk. Blue Plate is about 1/2 block from our old office, but maybe 6 or 7 blocks from our new office, so it is a rare treat to take the time to walk down to Blue Plate. On Jury Duty day, however, I had a whole 90 minutes to kill, so bring on the Blue Plate and Monday's Special: fried chicken, yum, yum. Another fun fact about Blue Plate is they recently filmed Diners, Drive-ins & Dives with Guy Fieri at Blue Plate for the Food Network (to be aired some time in August). Michael was asked to come down and be one of the customers during the filming, but he was too busy. I know, crazy.

Anyway, after lunch I decided to sit at one of the old school desks and do some sketching. The desks are individual and have sides, so I figured I wouldn't be bothered by anyone and would get a lot done. Boy, was I wrong. The guy sitting next to me must have been bored beyond tears as he kept peering around the side of my desk to see what I was doing. Finally he just blurted out "are you an artist?" I almost laughed as I am clearly so NOT an artist, but I just replied, no, it's just a hobby. Well, the guy is a contractor and he REALLY wanted to talk about some recent remodeling jobs he had done for artists. He went on and on about a studio he built recently for an oil painter and a photographer and a potter. So that somehow led to a conversation about how he and his wife spent their three week honeymoon near the Oregon Coast stoking a wood fired kiln for a potter and then, miraculously, I was called to another trial. I had to quickly say good-bye to my new contractor friend (who actually could have come in handy considering the volume of remodeling we do on our house, but alas, I had a job to do and I had forgotten to ask him for a business card).

This time we were sent to the 4th floor of the courthouse and this time the trial was a DUI. There were even more prospective jurors pulled this time for a 6 person trial. About half way through the questioning it became obvious why they needed so many extra jurors. They asked everyone the question: "have you ever been in an accident involving a drunk driver or has anyone you know ever been in an accident involving a drunk driver?" and then for those that had raised their hands, they asked if they would be able to be fair and impartial. The guy next to me (I'll call him "crazy leg guy", a different guy, of course, than a.m. "hate crime guy" because as I said before he got chosen for the other trial) had raised his hand along with about a half dozen other people. It was at this point that I realized his legs were shaking so uncontrollably that I couldn't believe his voice didn't vibrate when he spoke. When they got to questioning him, they asked about the circumstances of his experience with a drunk driver and he quickly told the story of his "drunk off his a** cousin" who had driven his motorcycle off a cliff. The state's attorney asked if he still had contact with his cousin and "crazy leg guy" said "that depends on what you mean by contact". She said do you still speak to him and he said "well, not in person since he split his head open and died when he went off the effing cliff". There was a very weird awkward moment in the courtroom and I was kinda afraid to be seated next to this guy. Anyway, he said he COULD be fair and impartial, but about 4 of the other jurors said they could not be fair. Then they asked if anyone believed that drinking alcohol was wrong and, if so, did they think they could be a fair and impartial juror. We lost a couple more people on that one. One lady even went as far as saying that one sip of any kind of alcohol impairs all your senses and you should not drive any kind of vehicle under those circumstances and nothing anyone said could change her mind. She was politely released from the courtroom. Then things got really weird and there were some long drawn out questions about people riding motorcycles and whether we thought the person in the back was in control of the vehicle or the person in front, to which the woman to my right blurted out "of course the person in the front is in control, they are driving". Anyway, since I have never been on a motorcycle, I was pretty much an innocent bystander to most everything that was discussed leading up to jury selection on this case. So, when they came out to call the final six chosen jurors, they were down to choosing them from a pool of 12 (which had originally started at 20). I kinda thought I had a good chance of making it on this jury, however, I was totally shocked when they chose: (1) a woman who had fallen off a motorcycle as a child (2) a woman whose sister is an alcoholic and she was PRETTY sure she could be impartial (3) a guy who owns three motorcycles himself (4) the lady to my right who had blurted out about the person in the front being in control of the vehicle, WHAT, relevance please??? (5) a librarian who knits and gardens for her hobbies and (6) the CRAZY LEG GUY sitting next to me who was very clearly unstable and potentially a drug addict and who had made a fool of the state's attorney. WHAT??? Like I said. I just do not understand the jury selection process.

So, once again the REJECTS were sent back to the jury waiting room to find out everyone else had gone home and so, we were sent home as well. So, I have served my duty and cannot be called again for another 24 months. Thank Goodness!

6 comments:

Cole said...

Since I married Ben he has gotten at least seven calls (letters) for jury duty. Seven in almost nine years. I however have NEVER been sent a notice. I really want to, I see it as an adventure I've never been on yet....

When is it my turn?!?

kjlubitz said...

An adventure in seeing how the court system really works and also in experiencing a wide cross section of people cooped up in a government building. I do wish I had been chosen for a trial though. That would have made it all seem more worthwhile. And, I would have had more stories to tell....

Jeff Melnick said...

Considering the "chosen" personalities you were congregated with, I'm sure this is one time your were proud to be a "reject". Good luck next time. I've only been called when I was nursing, therfore, dismissed. Although I once was subpeonaed to be on the Federal Grand Jury. That was scary, all drug dealers and tax evaders. I also was a "reject". Oh well.
Dana

Lindsay said...

That was so interesting. I'm so intrigued to know how they ended up picking those people...

kjlubitz said...

ME TOO?!? At first I thought the morning trial was an anomaly, but clearly it WASN'T.

Retired Syd said...

Wow, that was a good story!