Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jury Duty: Work-Stress Release Therapy

"The Persians", on the ceiling of the inner dome of the courthouse rotunda.
¤ ¤ ¤ You ask me "Kory?" (I interrupt with a Vincent Price voice "yyyyesss?" - you grimace, annoyed, then continue) "how can I be 100% all American and partake of a most cherished get-out-of-work-free card?". In need of emphasizing your quandary, you add: "how? how?? I beseech you. Lo, please tell me!" Ignoring for now the fact that you used the words beseech and lo in a sentence, I lean back, tie the belt of my smoking jacket, and despite No Smoking signs plastered in at least 12 locations that I can see, proceed to light my pipe, stroke my beard pensively and finally, after a pause and opening paragraph far, far too long say "The answer is simple, my child.. Jury Duty".
¤ ¤ ¤ It's true. I believe I am one of 14 people on this planet that holds aloft their jury duty summons and sings the "I've got a Golden Ticket" song. "Kory, please explain! Why?" Ok. Since you asked: Where else can you: 1) avoid work 2) sit around all day 3) read (before you interject: "Kory?! that's what you do all day anyway!!", I put my index finger to your lips and sensually hum "Sssshhhhhhh! daddy's gonna make everything allllriiight." sufficiently creeped out? good, let's continue) #4. Always... number 4. 4) how about a little thing called.. serve America!?? (I say this while pumping my fist in the air, patriotically) 5) do your civic duty (yes, 'duty', please, no giggling) 6) take two hour lunches 7) explore new neighborhoods 8) all of the above.
Really, it doesn't get much better. Unless you're me, today, this morning to be specific.
¤ ¤ ¤ Day 1: My jury summonses (more on the plural later) tells me I am to arrive at 8:45am. Arriving promptly at 9:10am, I see that I am to be serving in the very same main courthouse that tried and convicted Martha Stewart, oh so many forgotten months ago. One security screening line and a 15 minute elevator wait later, I find room 452. Hollywood couldn't have done it better; it is a stunningly beautiful governmenty room replete with reassuringly courthouse-colored-wood and historic paintings of New York in a scale so massive, I'm convinced each dwarfs the square footage of my apartment. I am in awe, eyes wide, mouth a bit slack and just as I am lowering myself into a seat, of course, the fire alarm goes off. We file out the room to see a building technician hesitantly touching some fire alarm buttons while making the "please work! c'mon you stupid thing, please work" face. It doesn't work.
We file out of the building and mill about while watching five fire trucks arrive. About 30 or more firefighters file in and a few minutes later, file out. An entire courthouse full of people slowly file back in. Back upstairs, I hand in my paperwork and explain that I've been summoned twice, once as Kory Dayani and once as my birth name Kuroesh, which the NY DMV forced me to use on my drivers license to prove that still, after 36 years, Americans can not pronounce my birth name. Before I can finish explaining about the summonses, I'm interrupted, with a smile, and told to go to room 139 to have it straightened out. I dread what's about to come. Instead, I'm treated to some of the kindest and most efficient customer service I may have received so far in NY and I'm in and out of there in less than 5 minutes. I return to the jury room and sit and watch a truly bizarre video - starring Jane Pauly - describing in 1st-grade-reading-level detail, the judicial system as it'll apply to us. Needing coffee, I walk out into the hallway, which is likewise over-government-alized but Orwellianly efficient.. mirroring the quality and effect of the coffee. I return to the jury room in time to hear attendance called so I start reading my book thinking that the sound of my name will be obvious. When I realize they've finished reading the names and I haven't heard mine, I see that it wasn't so obvious. I go up and tell them I'm present. Three minutes later, they start calling names for 25 prospective jurors to head to room C. Mine is the second name called. I make a note to pay more attention to roll call tomorrow.
¤ ¤ ¤ In the jury selection room, the "jury lady" let's call her, assigns us seats using the same voice a teacher might use to direct second graders for a class photo ("No you here, you there.. yes, good"). We then begin the next long wait-and-wait period. Waiting for .. the lawyers: It's been about 6 years since I last did jury duty in which time I guess I had forgotten how lawyers, especially during jury selection, are part psychologist, part hypnotist, part your life long best friend and unintentionally, part asshole. Knowledge of the law is pretty secondary when it comes to picking a jury. Any hoo-ha about the letter of the law this or 'basing your opinion on the facts presented', these men and women will not be successful lawyers without making themselves eminently likeable. Yet despite all the niceties and camaraderie building, a bit of dick-ish-ness always seems to slip through, whether it be snidely pointing out that the opposing lawyer is running too long or cutting off a prospective juror mid-sentence for whatever reason, valid or not. Lawyers also, and I do not blame them for this, have no problem with taking their sweet. ass. time. With everything. They are representing real people with real problems paying real money to.... really slow and methodical people. Maybe it's part of the hypnotization? Maybe it's a test to see which jurors have patience and which will blurt out "Oh for the love of god, get on with it!"
¤ ¤ ¤ The case was "a slip and fall case" - I use the quotes because over the next two days, I'd become very familiar with the term. My unofficial lack of any research whatsoever shows that 125% of all personal injury lawsuits are "slip and fall" cases. It seems that a cleaning lady "slipped" and "fell" on some sand "laid down" to melt snow on a "housing" project "stairway" (sorry, now I'm just gratuitously air quoting 'cause it's fun). We listened to the lawyers vaguely describing the case while asking each juror the same battery of questions we all would have rather been asked as a group since this individual-asking method was going to take well over an hour. When it came to me, I answered their questions with what I did for a living, that I could be fair and impartial and to the question "is there any reason you do you not want to serve on this jury?" I answered: "well.. I don’t -want- to serve on this jury.. I'd rather sit in that big room out there and read my book". This got a round of laughs, convincing me I might have a future in jury selection room stand up comedy. It seemed like the most honest answer to me but deep down, I knew I'd probably been just enough of a smart-ass to get me off of this particular jury. I hadn't said anything overtly offensive or lied about some bias that I didn't have, I just told it like it is (was?). I think lawyers have a problem with people keepin' it real. And if you know me well enough, you know I love nothing more than keepin' it real. (yeah, the italics kind). You could be a total racist, keeping completely quiet and end up being selected for a jury far easier than if you asked a simple question or offered up a funny bit of truth. The latter is often reason enough to 'just not take a chance' on a juror having some sort of biased subtext behind their question or comment, though they almost surely didn't.
¤ ¤ ¤ A two and a half hour lunch later, we filed back into the jury selection room and listened to the list of those selected, hoping to not hear any syllable involved in my name. "But, I thought you said you wanted to serve on a jury?" Oh, that much is true. Just not on one so.. how do I say this..? not-at-all-interesting-whatsoever,-not-even-a-little-bit. Hey, I never said jury duty wasn't going to be all about me.
¤ ¤ ¤ Day 2: Which is probably why, the very next day, I was assigned to another slip and fall prospective jury group. An Italian immigrant had slipped "and" fallen over a sprinkler installed in 1908, leading into a building built in 1865. Why are those dates important? They're not, really, I just think it's cool that it was so long ago. The lawyers in this case were a bit more arsehole-ish and a little less skilled at the hypnotist/psychologist game. To prove this point, they put no less than five people that I saw, completely to sleep. (unlike high school English class, no one yelled at them to wake up. Interesting, because I would think that a legal case would be a bit more important than one day in high school English class). Needless to say, I wanted off of this case as well. Part of me wishes I had opted for the more charismatic lawyer duo from the last case but hey, no regrets, let's spin the wheel again: "Does anyone have a problem with the idea of awarding money for things like pain and suffering?" I raise my hand. "Lost wages and medical costs are one thing but I think I might have a problem with awarding thousands and thousands of dollars for things that aren't quantifiable. Intangible claims.. trying to project into the future how much of your life has been altered.. I think it's hard to put a dollar amount on things like that". Bingo. I was off, for sure. Again, I'd spoken nothing but the truth but I knew no prosecutor in his right mind would want a juror who'd potentially be hesitant to give his client a large, large check. I sensed that other jurors picked up on my strategy. "Can I ask if your client has brought other slip and fall cases?" asked the guy to the right of me. Emotional indignation from the lady to my left: "yeah, I'd hope to god that If -I- were injured, I'd be justly compensated!". A few others around the room offered up just enough subtle implications that they might have a personal opinion of some kind.. on anything.. related to the case or not. Long story long, no one who spoke up was selected.
¤ ¤ ¤ Released back into the large jury selection room, I checked my email on the free laptops they provide, read for a bit and waited to be released for the day or sent to another selection room. "Would all those jurors who'd been in room C follow me, please?" We followed. And entered an actual courtroom. Oooh. What does this mean? I have no idea. Have we all been selected for a case without being questioned or...? Somehow I didn't see this coming: "Ok, you've all been released from service. This document here - you're going to make three copies of it. Make three copies of it. Make three copies of it. I said that three times, right? Good. Make three copies of it. Keep one copy in different corners of your house. If you're selected again any time in the next four years - and hey, it might happen, we are the government - mail one copy in and we'll fix it. Thank you all for serving. Have a great weekend".
¤ ¤ ¤ Doh. It seems I spun the pick-me fate wheel one too many times. Despite the fact that we'd been told we'd have to be there for a minimum of three days, I was being released on day two without having been picked. My goal had of course been to get picked for a jury and to serve for 10 to 14 days or so. I had thought I would have been more disappointed but even just the two days had done wonders for mentally recharging the ol' batteries, depleted in that way that only endless workdays can sap.
¤ ¤ ¤ On my way out of the building, I used the second floor bathrooms before walking home. The stairs leading to it were, strangely, one of my favorite parts of the jury duty experience. A pearl white marble, the center areas of each of a dozen steps had been worn smooth by the footsteps of 86 years of daily use. Weekday after weekday, feet had tip tapped their way up and down seemingly impervious steps, wearing away the minutest amount of marble per step. There are moments in a city so old that history and time itself arent just visible, they're felt, even if it's just in the soles of your feet. I stood and gaped at the wear on the steps and although I knew I was alone, I said "wow" out loud, even though I was totally conscious of the fact that I was standing there saying "wow" out loud. Leaving the building, I started my aimless walk up Broadway, peering into shops and people watching, knowing the rest of the city was still working.. wishing, probably without really knowing it, that they had jury duty too.

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