The last place we want to be at 7:30 AM is standing in line on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles, holding a jury summons. In fact, we are prepared to throw our entire judicial system down the toilet for the freedom to be at home in bed (ideally, with our legs wrapped around a member of the Argentinian soccer team). The only smiling faces belong to the desperate, chatty types, who use situations like this to build rapport with people who otherwise wouldn't give them the time of day. For this reason, sensible people, among whom I count myself in this instance, strictly avoid making eye contact with anyone.
This is Jury Duty in Los Angeles.
Jury Holding Room
Stanley Mosk Courthouse
Los Angeles, CA
8 am - 10 am
We assemble in the Jury Holding Room of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse -- also known as the Regional Office of Dante's Long-Lost 10th Circle of Hell -- and set about performing our first task of the day: filling out our Juror Affidavits. We are given a retard's tour through this simple, self-explanatory document by a smiling African-American woman named Sheryl, who instructs us as follows:
"For 'Name,' print your name. For 'Have you ever been convicted of a felony?', go ahead and fill in the box next to the word 'No.' If you have been convicted of a felony, we do ask that you report to the front window immediately. For emergency contact, print the name of the person you would like us to contact in the event of an emergency. On the next line, where it says 'Relationship,' put the relationship of that person to you. What we're looking for here is the type of relationship, not the quality of the relationship, people; we are not interested in whether 'it's complicated' or he's your 'friend with benefits.'*
Once we have completed our Juror Affidavits and resisted the urge to open our wrists all over the cheap Berber carpet, we are given a few ground rules. Among them: we must refrain from wearing so-called "message" t-shirts during our term of service. One prospective juror recently wore a black t-shirt with the word "GUILTY" printed in huge white letters across the front. This is an example of what not to wear.
We also learn about the Jury Holding Room's "Duck, Cover & Hold" procedures:
"In the event of an earthquake, please duck, cover and hold under your seat. If there is no room under your seat, please duck, cover and hold behind or under the nearest object, such as a pillar, table, desk or doorway. [Since when is a doorway an object?] If you are unable to duck, cover and hold due to a medical condition, please duck, cover and hold by ducking your head into your lap, covering your head with your arms, and holding there. If you have any questions about the duck, cover and hold procedures, please come to the front window. [Where one hopes you will be immediately dismissed for having failed to meet the extremely low requirements for participation in our judicial process.]"
Now it's time for an instructional video about jury service. The video starts with the triumphant announcement that California is the greatest state in the union. No one blinks; one woman takes notes. We watch one-way interviews with former jurors who tell us how fulfilling, rewarding and, at times, scary (??), jury service can be. We are told that, once we have completed our service, we will be filled with pride and satisfaction for having performed our civic duty.** We will want to serve on a jury again -- indeed, we will yearn for that very honor.
The video is interrupted by Sheryl, who tells us that seven prospective jurors failed to properly fill out their Juror Affidavits. Sheryl asks these unfortunate people -- six Hispanics and one Vietnamese -- to report to the front window. Only three people come forward; presumably, the other four do not even recognize their own names.
The video is back on. We are watching a sped-up version of a jury trial as a silken-voiced narrator explains the action on screen. "Evidence is taken and objections may be made by counsel," she purrs soothingly. We see these very phenomena demonstrated by actors who deliver their lines with such awkward woodenness that one wonders if these are, indeed, actual attorneys. The video is most accurate in its depiction of the female judge, whose hair is arranged in an attenuated version of a bowl cut and whose sartorial style includes a crepey blue neck-scarf knotted haphazardly over her robes. An abrupt smear of peach lipstick completes the picture.
The video is over. An announcement: "If you are Brendan Magill, please come to the front window. Again, Brendan -- that is, Brennn-DAN -- Magill?" No one moves.
Now it is time for general roll call. We are told that if the name called sounds like our name, it is probably our name. When I hear "La Lin-GOO-wet-tah" I shout "HERE!" -- because anything less than a shout will cause the name to be repeated with an even worse pronunciation and not a small measure of disdain.
I am called to appear in the first panel of the day: Department X.
As Juror #__, I enter Department X, presided over by the Honorable Judge Harold Dickstein.*** I dislike him instantly. Judge Dickstein welcomes us to his courtroom with an air of fake-magnanimity that is lost on the other jurors, most of whom regard the judge as if his words are inscribed on Sinai stone. After informing us that this proceeding will not be like "CSI Miami" or "Columbo," Judge Dickstein encourages us to raise our hands at any time if we have any questions. Almost immediately, a hand pops up; a gentleman to my right explains in halting English that he has difficulty understanding what the judge is saying and, effectively, that he may not be the best man for the job. After making a great show of considering the man's question -- which was actually a statement, but whatever -- Judge Dickstein announces that he is "not going to worry about that right now." Turning to address the rest of us, he explains that, while we are certainly free to ask questions, we should not expect that he will necessarily answer our questions -- whether at that time, or at all. This further confirms my initial impression that Judge Dickstein is a stain with a gavel.
Now we go around the room and state our name, where we are from (specifically) in Los Angeles, our occupation, whether we are married or have children, and the nature of our prior jury experience (if any). One woman shocks the Court with the revelation that she has served on 11 juries. Stroking his chin, our crafty jurist abruptly demands to know whether the woman is a professional juror. She blushes and stammers, "N-n-noooooo!" with such incredulity that we immediately suspect her of being that very thing.
Then it is my turn -- and I have been waiting for this moment all day. See, what neither Judge Cockstein nor the rest of these poor idiots know is that under no circumstances am I going to be a member of this (or any other) jury. The fact that the situation has even gotten to this point is my fault; anyone with half a brain gets (or forges) a doctor's note declaring him or herself physically or mentally incapable of serving on a jury. At the very least, I should have pretended to have Tourettes. But no matter. I am not going to slip again.
And so, I launch into the monologue I have been carefully preparing ever since we found out the subject matter of the case: My name is La Linguetta; I am a Summer Associate with a prominent law firm; one of my cases involves issues substantially similar to those at trial; I feel compelled to inform the Court that I am highly emotionally invested in my clients' position. This is my first perjury of the day. When asked if I can serve as an impartial juror in this matter, I respond, "I will try." The Court does not appreciate this answer. Squinting menacingly, Judge Dickstein asks whether I intend to be a litigator or a transactional attorney. "A litigator, Your Honor." He then informs me that he has been a litigator for 29 years, and that, even after serving myriad clients during that time period, he would be capable of perfect impartiality. "With all due respect, Your Honor, I think you were probably much more of a litigator than I will ever be," I say humbly. "That may be so," he fires back, "but is it not our responsibility as litigators to be objective and unemotional in considering all of the evidence and facts in a case?"
I stare at him. I am thinking that, no, in fact, our role as litigators is to strenuously advocate for our clients to the utmost extent possible within the confines of the law. I am thinking that every attorney with whom I have worked has been very emotionally invested in and partial to their client's position. "Objectivity is your job, you f--king moron" -- that's what I want to, but, thankfully, do not say.
Fed up now, Judge Dickstein demands an answer: can I or can I not be impartial? And, despite the fact that an officer of the court is giving me the shit-eye so bad that I can almost see brown, I coolly respond that my answer must, unfortunately, be "No." This is my second act of perjury. But before I have a chance to revel in my moment of defiance, I am given my marching orders: "Juror #__, I am excusing you from this trial. Get your things and proceed back to the Jury Holding Room immediately." Words on a screen cannot sufficiently convey the contempt in his voice.
I quickly arrange my face into an expression of the deepest reverence and regret, practically genuflecting as I push through the double doors and exit the courtroom. Once I am outside: ELATION! VICTORY! Gone is the bullshit look of contrition; my heart is soaring and triumphant tingles race up and down my spine like ants on fire. I feel like I'm on the best, most mind-expanding kind of non-prescription opiates!
Not that I would know what that feels like. At all.
* The court employees have a uniform affinity for verbal surplusage, inserting unnecessary words and phrases before what should be simple declarative sentences -- e.g., "We here at the courthouse DO ask that you DO sign out for any bathroom breaks;" "Please GO AHEAD AND place your juror badge at shoulder-length; we do not need to be looking at your pants to see your juror identification number." refrain from taking pictures;" "We ARE GOING TO ask that you
** If one took a shot for every time the phrase "civic duty" is uttered during a day of jury duty in Los Angeles, one would be Mickey Rourke.
*** Not his real name -- though the first four letters of the chosen pseudonym should not be interpreted as accidental.