Tuesday, September 06, 2005

the jury duty experience

I got up at 6:07, the first time the snooze alarm went off. Got up, got dressed, made the kids' lunches, emptied the dishwasher, packed myself a breakfast of sorts: banana, half a tuna sandwich, some chocolate chip cookies, and a cup of coffee in a travel mug.

I brought my notebook and folder with some of my records in it, I'm not exactly sure why. The plan was to call the endo and see if there was any word on my referral, and to call the insurance company and see if Anderson is an in-network provider. I certainly didn't need to bring my records.

Left the house about 10 before 7AM, and got to the parking garage at just about 8AM. The traffic was horrific. I would not survive that trip as a daily commute. The slow drive does facilitate eating in the car, though. I couldn't eat until about ten past, since I needed to wait an hour after taking my meds. The eating part worked fine, but I dripped coffee down my white linen top. Lovely.

Other than that, the rest of the trip was uneventful. On the way down in the elevator in the parking garage, an (East) Indian in a lovely deep red sari chatted me up. She sounded exactly like my endocrinologist. We rode together in the shuttle bus to the courthouse. She was the first person to exhibit the general personality in evidence: annoyed at being there, but semi-cheerful about making the best of it. No one wants to get put on a long trial. We all just want to get back to our real lives.

After going through security, I checked in: handed in my paperwork, got a little badge that my juror number slip slid into. Then, a fair amount of waiting around. I took advantage of the lull to go to the women's room to blot the coffee out of my top. It wasn't perfect, but it was worlds better. Fortunately linen dries quickly. I went back to the waiting room, more sitting around with nothing to do.

I found the courtesy phone (no sense in wasting my cellphone battery) and called the insurance company. She gave me the rundown but couldn't tell me if Anderson is in-network, since they only deal with in-state claims. But she did tell me we've already met our deductible this year. I called the out-of-state number and turned into a spaz. They couldn't find Anderson in their listing; did I have an address? No, of course, I didn't have anything, and I couldn't get on the computer to look it up, either. She told me U of TX is in-network if that helps -- I didn't think it did and rang off, rather dejected.

Then I called the endo's office to see if there was anything I could do: I told the receptionist I was stuck and was just calling for the heck of it, but she couldn't help -- my endo's dictations from over the weekend weren't done yet, so the referral process hasn't even started yet. Nothing to do there, yet. (sigh)

Finally, something: they played a tape over the closed-circuit TVs, a PSA/training video about jury duty. No one seemed to be feeling any better about performing their civic duty, in spite of the rah-rah that the local TV personalities were putting out for us. I ignored the tape.

I ignored the nice woman's orientation spiel, too, because I was using a pay-per-use computer terminal. I looked up MD Anderson and happily saw that it is indeed part of U of TX. Sweet! I checked my mail and all my usual sites, and did some surfing off the blogroll over there. The terminal had the most annoyingly nonstandard UI ever. After a while, a twenty-something guy came over and said, "Excuse me, ma'am, are you going to be on there long?" He needed to check his mail. I said give me just a minute, and he said great, and then drifted off. I logged off, amazed that those nearly 42 minutes went by so quickly. I had surfed for 41 minutes and 38 seconds. My credit card will be charged something like $4.20 if I read the billing policy correctly. If I didn't, I'll end up with a $25 charge or something. I don't care.

After that I was just sitting around, bored, until finally something else happened. The orientation lady announced that they were seating a jury for a 6-week trial. She read off everyone's name: if you can do it, you say "yes," if you had a legit reason you couldn't, you say "no." I discussed the possibility of legit excuses with the three guys at the table with me. The ambulance driver thought being an ambulance driver is a good enough excuse: he'll do more good out on the streets. The guy with the new job said his high blood pressure should do it for him, but I told him my sad story of how the jury selection review board rejected my excuse request even though I had a doctor's note. He seemed non-plussed because in nearly any heirarchy of misery, cancer tops high blood pressure, and yet I still had to be there. The third guy just looked on rather amused by the spectacle, I think. Still, we all said "no" when our names were called.

The orientation lady segregated all the "Yes"'s into a side room, leaving the rest of us in the main area. Each "No" had to fill out a form with an excuse. My first excuse was the upcoming visit to MD Anderson for the thyca treatment and probable neck disection surgery. Yes, I used the terms cancer and neck disection, because 1) they are not hyperbole and 2) I really did not want to serve on a 6 week trial. My second excuse was the primary-care-giver to 3 young kids, no family in the area, etc etc. I never heard another peep about the 6 week trial after filling out that form.

After that relatively mild ordeal, they put a tape in the VCR: Fools Rush In, a truly dreadful movie with Selma Hayek and Mathew Perry. No chemistry at all between the two of them.

At that point I really regretted not paying attention to the orientation spiel, because I thought I heard something about a Starbucks nearby. I was too embarrassed to ask the staff about it, though. They looked busy.

I was being sucked into the vortex of the horrible movie when something unexpected happened: they were selecting a jury for a trial beginning today. They were reading off names, and they called me! Yay! I got to leave the depressing room full of 250 other prospective jurors perched on uncomfortable chairs and watching a really bad movie. (They really shouldn't do that to people, you know: neither the chairs, nor the movie.)

Our bailiff was a pleasant older zaftig woman who herded all 47 of us down an infinite corridor to an elevator bank. During the herding process I chatted with a woman who reminded me a lot of Goldie Hawn, only with red hair. She had a very good sense of humor. We went up to the 9th floor where we waited in the elevator lobby outside the courtroom until they were ready for us. While we were waiting, we got our juror numbers. I was 26; red-headed Goldie Hawn was 27. We traded stories about previous court rooms experiences. Red had unfortunately spent a lot of time in them as her ex is a deadbeat and never pays his child support. State of AZ does nothing to enforce, either. Lousy situation. My only time in a courtroom before today was to get my marriage license to DH -- who knew there was a 3-day waiting period? We didn't. The judge teased us, but gave us the necessary permission.

The bailiff gave us very detailed instructions on where we were to sit when we got into the court room. When we got in, the room was not big at all. I always expect huge courtrooms from those scenes on "Law & Order" with the enormously high ceilings and gorgeous bas reliefs on the walls. No such luck here, just wood panelling. I still could barely hear the judge even though she was quite articulate. She had probably the best diction of any non-actor-type person I've ever heard. Quite extraordinary.

We got to hear a brief overview of the case, which started today and would finish tomorrow. Have we been involved in a similar case? No. (Although later I realized I do know someone who was involved in a similar case, but it was moot at that point.) We were introduced to all the principal players. Did any of us know any of them? No, again.

Now, the important question: is there any other reason you can't serve on this jury? I held up my number, along with a half-dozen or so other people. The judge listened to us whine, in order. A few self-employed folks. Juror 19 was like me, primary transportation for 3 kids, only hers are older than mine. When it was my turn I said that: "Everything Juror 19 said goes for me, too, only my kids are younger." The judge quizzed me on how old they are. She questioned DS2 being in school, and I explained his preschool schedule. I told her that DH is self-employed and doesn't get paid if he doesn't work. No family local, etc. She made a few notes.

After everyone finished giving their excuses, she called a bunch of numbers -- including 26. We all stood up, and she dismissed us. We happily marched back to the elevator. There was a businessman that I teased, "I didn't think she was going to let you off." He had a conference to go to the next day. The judge zinged him with knowing about his jury duty at least 6 weeks in advance; he smoothly countered that he was planning on "one day" service. That's the rule here in AZ: one day/one trial -- either/or. Juror #19 and I commiserated about being chauffer-moms.

All of the dismissed folks went back to the jury selection room to get our "proof of service" paperwork. The room was empty. It was about 12:10PM by that time, and everyone had gone to lunch. The woman at the desk told us we could go home. We straggled out of the building and, not waiting for the shuttle, we trudged the 3 short blocks back to the garage. It was not a big deal, keeping to the shade. I ate my chocolate chip cookies on the way. We all piled into the elevator at the garage. Juror #19 and I were both just happy to be released in time to get a decent lunch.

I got home in about 35 minutes, inordinately thankful that I didn't have to deal with rush hour traffic on the way home, too.

-*-

Being a juror was a lot like being back in elementary school. Go here; sit here; do this; stand here; wait. Speak only when you're spoken to; be respectful. I did not see one person being mouthy or difficult. Everyone knew they were there for a reason, and it was just better to go along and get through it. People were generally pleasant: I can't count the number of rueful smiles and indulgent eye-rolls I saw today. In a weird way, it was nice. You hear so much about people being jerks, self-centered and rude, but the nearly 300 people I saw in the jury pool today were anything but. Everyone was polite, and the staff did their best to smooth the process out for the jurors. In particular the woman who did the orientation was very good at her job; she had just the right amount of humor in her approach -- and she certainly knew how to play to her audience.

So it was exhausting, but interesting. And ultimately, a glimpse of the good heart of the citizenry.

1 comment:

Sheik Yerbootie said...

Better than mine was - eight hours sitting on my butt, no computer, no TV, no movies - chairs and people.

It largely sucked.