“Am I in the right place?”
That was the question I asked a very stressed out security person as I reported for jury duty early this morning. Yes, the dreaded “Day of Duty” had arrived and I was not looking forward to it. I was trying my best to remain upbeat and positive about the whole thing, citing my “civic duty” and all, even trying to harness my inner Stanley Hudson from The Office:
But truthfully, I wasn’t feeling it. As I made my way downtown, I was unsure of everything, especially where to park. Turns out, they have many signs for jurors to follow-and they all lead to a parking garage. I don’t like parking garages. I have nothing against them-they serve a purpose. It’s just, well, I suck at parking. The only thing worse than a parking garage to me is parallel parking. If someone said, “Listen, woman, you either parallel park this Jeep Wrangler or live in exile, wandering the woods in a pair of leggings with little cameras printed on them and eating kale for every meal,” then I would have no other choice than to wave goodbye to the regular world and shove my bloated farty stomach into a pair of customized leggings made in China.
Now, this is my first jury summons, so I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I had to be there at 8:30. I knew that unless I had planned ahead and received special permission (which I hadn’t) I was not allowed to bring in my phone. I knew that the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant would ask us questions, but that was about it. What I didn’t know was, where, exactly, I was to report. See, in our town there are three courthouses and they are all clustered together on a corner. And yes, I did have a map, but following directions on a map falls right under “Parking Garage” on the List of Things I Don’t Do Well.
I was running a bit behind schedule (see parking garage above) so when I was informed that no, I was not in the right place, I started to frazzle. The summons said 8:30. What if I was late and got into trouble?I had left in plenty of time, and yet, here I was running down the sidewalk. It was like the dream I have that I am back in high school and can’t remember my locker combination and I’m standing there trying every combination I know and my books are falling on the ground and OMG, I FORGOT TO DO MY HOMEWORK.
I ran across the street and up the steps to the OTHER courthouse, waited in line, walked through a metal detector, and then waited some more while security had to “take a look at my keys,” which I thought odd, as other than my plastic Jesus flashlight, there is nothing powerful on that lanyard. I suspect they wanted to get a good look at flashlight Jesus but didn’t want to ask.
Security complete, I made my way back to the jury room and checked in with a very very nice woman who asked my name.
“Do you need to see my summons?”
“Do you need my photo ID?”
“No, sweetheart, you’re fine.”
Had I known that they weren’t going to verify my identity, I could have put an ad on Craigslist: “Jury Duty Proxy. Must be female or identify as female. Must be willing to be bored out of your mind for 4 hours. Script will be provided. $15 an hour.”
Soda, coffee, and water was available while we waited, but thanks to my walnut-sized bladder, I passed on all three. I noticed the clock on the wall as I went to take my seat—8:30am exactly. Booyah. Take THAT, parking garage! And then I continued to glance up at the clock: 8:45. 9:00. 9:20. 9:45… I felt brain cells start to die off with each tick of the second hand.
Finally, a bailiff and judge’s assistant came to get us. I’m not sure if “judge’s assistant” is the correct term, but it’s what I remember he was. And if you happen be an assistant to a judge, I mean no disrespect; I don’t know legal terms. But whatever your name is, really, waiting almost an hour and a half? We need to do something about that.
They issued us all Juror numbers and made us stand in several rows. My number was 33, which pleased me, as my favorite number is 3. Yes, it’s a stupid thing to be happy about, but when you wait 1.5 thirsty hours in a large room with nothing but a 2014 Real Simple magazine to keep you company, you find joy where you can.
Numbers in hand, our band of possible jurors tromped out to the elevators and up to the 7th floor, where we were put into yet another order to make entering the courtroom easier. I commented to the woman next to me that in the time it took to arrange us, we could have already been in there. She agreed AND had a British accent, so she also made me happy. I was grasping at Happiness Straws, people!
Into the courtroom we go where the attorneys and their clients were waiting. We all sat down and counsel made introductions. I tried to figure out who, exactly, were the defendant and plaintiff, cause there seemed to be an awful lot of people on one side of the room. Turns out, the plaintiff had an attorney, another attorney, another woman who isn’t an attorney but serves some purpose, the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s brother. The plaintiff’s side really needed a bigger table.
The judge enters and we all rise. It’s the first time I’ve been in a courtroom and the first time I’ve ever risen for a
judge. I mean, I’ve watched Judge Judy, but I don’t rise for her. Sorry, Judy.
The judge was nothing but kind, thanking us all for giving of our time to be there and be a part of this very important judicial process. He asked if anyone had a reason that they felt made them unable to serve on a jury and oh, did the hands go up. He addressed each possible juror, row by row.
Now, I’ll be honest-I was going to raise my hand. I went in there knowing that I was going to raise my hand. I have pre-paid sessions on my books and being selected for a trial is going to be a pain and possibly cost me money, as I will have to reschedule those appointments and hope that everyone is okay with the rescheduling and if not, I will have to refund hundreds of dollars. I had my speech all prepared as to why I could not serve on a 2-3 day trial and then…I heard the reasons others were giving:
“My dad has Alzheimer’s and we are in the process of moving him into a long term care facility. It’s just me and my brother taking care of him and we take turns, because we both have to work.”
“I am budgeted down the dollar and can’t afford the $7.50 an hour stipend the court issues. I need my work hours or I won’t be able to pay my rent.”
“I take care of my dad and my grandmother. Both are in a wheelchair and my dad just had a pacemaker installed, so he can’t do any sort of heavy lifting. As for my grandma, I cook for her and help bathe her and take both she and my dad to their doctor appointments.”
Yeah, THESE are true hardships. And having heard them, I kept my mouth shut.
The process continued with counsel asking open questions to all of us. If we had something we felt relevant to the question, then we were to raise our hand. And many did…including me.
See, the case going to trial was a civil case involving a very elderly lady (plaintiff) and a young woman in her 20’s (defendant) I don’t know the details, but it involved a car accident in 2015 wherein the plaintiff was claiming negligence on the part of the defendant. The plaintiff claimed the results of the auto accident left her with lingering back and neck issues.
The attorney for the plaintiff went first. He was an older man who was very hard of hearing, which resulted in him speaking quietly. So quietly, in fact, that the woman sitting in front of me raised her hand and suggested he use the microphone.
The questions included things like:
“Has anyone been injured in a car accident?”
“Do any of you have family members working in the medical field.”
“Do any of you have any knowledge or relationship with either counsel, the defendant or the plaintiff?”
“Do any of you have issues with believing the assessment of a physician?”
“Do any of you believe an individual should not be reasonably compensated for injuries.”
And there it was. The question that caused my hand to shoot up.
I stood, introduced myself as we were instructed to do, and said that I have a question. I really wanted to say, “Let me answer your question with a question,” as I’ve always wanted to use that line in a serious conversation, but felt that a courtroom setting might be pushing it.
Me: “I obviously don’t know the details of this case, but this is all over an auto accident, correct?”
Me: “And this case is a LAWSUIT over the auto accident, correct?”
Me: “Okay, then I think I do have issue with the term “reasonably compensated.”
Attorney: “What do you mean by that?”
Me: “Well, my daughter was recently in accident, just a little over a year go. She was sitting at a red light and a truck ran the red. It hit a car in the intersection which pushed another car into my daughter’s vehicle, pushing it up onto the sidewalk, totaling the car. 12 inches more and she would have been carried away in an ambulance. She was injured, both her back and her neck, but never once did she consider suing the guy who ran the red. She was thankful she was alive. The driver of the truck was simply in a hurry and made a bad call. No one died. Life was going to go on. But again, a lawsuit never entered her mind. Or ours.”
Attorney: “Okay, then, but let me ask you-don’t you think that if an individual is injured in an automobile accident that they are entitled to reasonable compensation for those injuries.”
Me: “Define “reasonable compensation.”
Me: “Because what’s reasonable to some people certainly isn’t reasonable to others. And furthermore, isn’t that the reason we HAVE auto insurance? I mean, by law, we have to carry it. And doesn’t most auto insurance pay out medical when these things happen? And let’s face it, life stuff DOES happen. To all of us.”
Attorney: “So you don’t think reasonable compensation due to negligence is required.”
Me: “I never said that. I said that I don’t know the details of the case, so I could be wrong, but if insurance covered the medical needs following the accident, then a lawsuit seems rather a waste of the court’s time. A lawsuit, at least to me, is a pretty big deal. I mean, let’s face it, we’re a litigious happy society, are we not? And there are big issues that demand that course of action. Giant, life shattering events. But this? Again, I don’t know the details, but from what you’ve shared with us thus far, I just don’t see it.”
I sat down and glanced at the counsel tables. The plaintiff was shooting daggers at me with her eyes and the attorney for the defense was looking down at his notes, but I swear I saw a hint of a smile.
But then, it started to snowball. Another hand shot up.
“Yeah, I can’t remember her name over there, but I agree with her. I served as foreman on a case where someone had already been compensated but sued anyway. I just think we sue over everything now.”
And another hand, all echoing that sentiment.
Jiminy Christmas. Would this help or hinder my chances of getting picked? I had no idea.
In the end, I didn’t get picked for the trial, and that’s okay. I was actually kind of invested in it at that point and would have liked to have been picked, but I was glad to at least have spoken my thoughts to the room as instructed and if they gave someone a different perspective, then good.
After the jury announcement was made, I said a little sadly under my breath, “Oh, I didn’t get picked.” The guy in front of me turned around and said, “Hah! Did you think you would after that? It was great, by the way. You practically made the case for the defense right there.”
I have nothing further.
Juror #33 rests, your honor.