I’m not an anarchist, but I’m damn near. My problems with the idea of overly large and restrictive governments and unregulated corporations (which I consider nothing but governments with money) started with the law when Bush Junior made a national fiasco out of arresting a group of my friends and then turning them into case point A for why Iraq needed FREEDOM! I’m not sure if we can safely say that the legal system in the United States itself is a given. What IS a given is the fact that everyone thinks it’s totally fucked up. The precise WAY in which it’s fucked up depends entirely on who you ask, but it’s a given mess. The strange thing is that for all the complaining people like to do about it, no one seems to want to have any part of trying to clean it all up. I’m not going to haughtily declare myself above the knaves right now and go around shaming everyone. I am, in fact, not that much different. After returning from my holiday visit to my family in California, I wasn’t exactly enthused when I saw a jury summons from the district court of Lynnwood sitting on my bed.
My first thought was the same as everyone else’s when they get summoned for jury duty: Whoever’s on trial, I will see them fucking hang!!! My second thought was also the same as everyone else’s: What excuse to get out of this gives me the perfect balance between plausibility and inarguability? Finally, the rational part of my brain managed to break through. It reminded me of something: If anything, I was getting a chance to be an insider in this system I was always griping about. If I wasn’t able to get out of it, why not embrace the opportunity as a chance to keep a wrong from possibly happening?
And I did want to get out of it. Missing two days of work was going to force me to delay a trip overseas I’ve been dying to make as it was, and if that wasn’t enough, I had also just started looking for a new place to live. (The circumstances surrounding this situation were very unique, and will probably show up here sooner or later.) Yes, the courts promise compensation for jurors, but that compensation is rightfully regarded as a joke. It’s about $20 a day. In other words, it’s lunch money for whatever nice cafe or teriyaki joint happens to be across the street. When weighed against my travel plans and the money I was losing, that just wouldn’t do. So I made a couple of cursory calls to the local justice department, only to find out that I had called the wrong number. I was looking for the city court, not the county court, and I had lost the city court’s number. So, having informed my supervisor – who made sure to photocopy my summons – I sucked it up and went in to Lynnwood court.
Going into the court, I first filled out my information. Then I was hauled into the back, where I was placed in a room with about 17 other people. Looking around, I started mentally practicing my Henry Fonda juror speech as I sat there doing nothing else. I think the court wanted to make sure the jury was free of possible outside influence, because there weren’t even any courtesy magazines. Me and all the others waited for what felt like an eternity, and I tried to ebb the flow of self-doubt questions going through my head: Would I be able to do the right thing if I thought everybody else was wrong? Would I tell a few inadvertent lies when questioned in order to make a last ditch effort to get out of it? Id I really want to involve myself in a case for someone I never knew existed, and would never see again?
When it was time to do the movie and television show thing where we all answered whether or not we had the stuff to be a juror, everyone was taken into the courtroom at the same time. The case was explained to us, and the folks who invented this system clearly weren’t idiots; they’re not going to ask us why we think we’d be good jurors, because probably a few too many people regaled them with that handy line about being able to tell if someone is guilty just by looking at them. So what they did was give us the skinny on the situation and ask the entire group questions at the same time. Answers were a few words, tops. The Judge seemed to be a pretty cool guy. He had a sense of humor about his field, explaining that we weren’t jurors just yet. We were merely members of the veneer, and six jurors would be chosen depending on the way we answered the questions they asked. “Leave it to lawyers to invent a fancy French term for a phrase,” he said. The lawyers weren’t quite as endearing, and I got the feeling that one of them was trying to make his entire case right on the spot.
After the little getting-to-know-you/questioning session, we were all placed into the back room again, and I sat there and soaked up the scenery. The most incredible thing was how prevalent the people who wanted to escape were, and how open they were about wanting to get the hell out. During my second visit to Lynnwood court, there was an old guy there who was griping about the fact that he was asked to show up at all. All the times he had been summoned to the court, and he had never been needed before because all the cases he had been summoned for were settled out of court. There was another, slightly younger than me, who was bragging about the subtle missteps he had taken on purpose in order to get everyone to see him as an unfit juror. He didn’t seem satisfied that they would let him off for sure.
We spent between 30 and 45 minutes sitting there, in all our awkwardness, thinking about whether or not we’d be picked to be on the jury. There wasn’t any discussion about who did what, or any discussion of the case at all, although we did take points away from one of the lawyers for trying to make the case for his client right during the selection process. During my second visit, one of the other possible jurors talked about his experience being a juror previously. It hadn’t been so bad, he said. The entire case was settled in maybe and hour and a half. Of course, a short resolution was expected in a small civil court like Lynnwood’s. The first case I was summoned for was a case of reckless driving. The second was driving while intoxicated. The first was civil, the second criminal. But it didn’t change the fact that no one was going to be acting as a so-called peer in a major murder trial.
After being taken back out into the courtroom, the Judge started making his announcements: Six people were called forward and told to take their seats in the jury’s section. I missed out both times. One of the jurors called the second time was a man who said he had been called up once before, and he ended up serving on both juries. I was waiting with some form of anticipation during the second trial, as I thought I gave an answer which would have shooed me right in, but my name was never called, and I was free to head out. That was really the part of the entire adventure that everyone was dreading the most. I didn’t spot or speak to a single person who was interested in being a part of the jury, and most of them took offense to the fact that they had even been required to show up in the first place.
The look on the old man’s face during my second visit to the courtroom was one I’ll never forget. He had gotten called up as a juror, and lord, did he look pissed.