Friday, June 12, 2015

Adventures 2: Jury Duty

In order to savor the joys of jury duty, one needs to be patient. Very patient.

We are, after all, dealing with a government bureaucracy here. And jurors are needed in the process at unpredictable times and for unpredictable durations.They need to be kept available so they can be "turned on" when needed and "turned off" when not.

The courthouse did its best. It was air-conditioned (mostly: on the afternoon of the second day, the air conditioning in the courtroom stopped conditioning the air. It was in the high 80s outdoors, and the courtroom got so hot that the judge removed her black robe and told the lawyers they could remove their suitcoats. Plaintiff's lawyer did, defendant's lawyer did not.) Chairs in the juror assembly room where we waited to be assigned to cases were really comfortable. They had been paid for out of a fund comprising jury duty fees that jurors had donated for such purposes. Once we got checked in initially, we usually got to go through security checks with court employees, a much shorter line than the public checkpoint.

But, inevitably, there is a lot of waiting involved. Most people read or played with their phones. (Complimentary wifi provided in the courthouse.) A few brought hand-work that could survive the security check (only circular knitting needles or crochet hooks allowed). A different few simply stared into space, a choice which marked them tentatively as saints, philosophers, poets, or sufferers of insomnia or mental illness, populations frequently confused with one another. Eventually, nothing really worked to distract any of us from the boredom of sitting around waiting to be called, and small, directionless conversations began, faltered, died out, reignited in different configurations.

Once I got onto a specific jury, the greatest frustration was not waiting but keeping quiet. Here I was, one of thirteen (twelve and an alternate) people who were listening to the same experts and the same character witnesses and the same lawyerly rhetoric, but we were forbidden to talk about it among ourselves, to research it on the web, even to ride down in the same elevator with the lawyers lest our considerations be warped by a too-friendly "nice weather today". Fighting the natural impulse to say, "What did you think about the ..." was a real struggle for me, and I'm not all that sociable under general circumstances. When testimony was finally wrapped up and closing arguments were complete, and we got into the jury room with the door closed behind us, everybody wanted to talk, as if we had been silently inhaling information for three days and needed at last to exhale a bit.

To my amazement, most of us agreed immediately to find for the defendant. We went around the table so everyone could get a chance to say his/her piece, and by the time it got to me, I could just have said "Ditto". But instead I went off babbling about the rhetorical fallacy "post hoc, ergo proper hoc", where someone asserts that something that happens first must be the cause of something that happens second, which was basically the plaintiff's case. I guess I really did need to talk.

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