|After I recently spent three days at Superior Court in Santa Ana – which meant I wasn’t spending three days at HKA, where I was supposed to be – I kept getting the same comment: “You mean you actually got stuck on a trial?” Often followed by this query, “Why the heck didn’t you tell them anything, just to get out of jury duty?”
I have to agree, those were my own first two thoughts. I had expected to spend one day at the courthouse – my annual civic duty that I never seem to avoid. And it’s unfortunate it arrived on a Tuesday, the day after a holiday Monday, making it a very long holiday weekend indeed. They say the jury call is random, but my annual letter from Jury Commissioner Alan Slater (who I know and he’s actually quite a wonderful guy, despite the jury summons his office sends) comes pretty darn regularly.
How I got stuck is the result of a few converging factors. First, our particular jury cluster of seemingly regular folks had more than its fair share of flakes. These were the ones who insisted they would be biased, no matter what question the judge or attorneys tossed at them. Some legitimately should have been tossed, including the menacing-looking gang-banger who seemed determined to acquit anyone, the confused-looking folks who claimed they spoke no English, and the dozing young man who suggested that his night job would make him snooze during a daytime trial.
OK, so maybe a dozen deserved to be tossed right off the bat. But the others? No way. Their excuses sounded like a chorus of whining. I particularly was annoyed by the guy in shorts and flip flops, who said he would be biased no matter what the case was about because he thought the justice system was “a joke.” When the Judge inquired, “Why?” He answered, “Because of O.J. and Rodney King.” The Judge spent a few minutes pursuing this line of reasoning, with similarly obtuse answers, and then gave up. I don’t think he wanted to deal with him in his courtroom. I didn’t blame him.
With all that going on, my options were limited. First, the judge was getting a bit impatient. Second, the jury pool still available to question was shrinking. And third, I suddenly felt a surge of civic pride while listening to the deadbeats try to wrangle their way out of service. True, I made one feeble attempt to respond to get booted off, but then shrugged and gave in. If they wanted me, I’d stick.
It was a simple case. Just a guy who wanted his day in court, but wound up with two guilty verdicts. All twelve of us took it seriously and debated the facts in the jury room, just as if it was a Murder One case. It was only my second trial (a pretty good record, since I’m called every year), and I have to admit it was a fascinating process. I won’t be as eager to duck jury duty next time I’m called. Now if only someone would tell my boss to pay me while I’m in the courtroom.