Saturday, May 12, 2007

12 Far-From-Angry Jurors

It finally came one day... the Jury Duty letter. It's been quite awhile since I've been summoned for Jury Duty. At least 8 years. The last time I was a resident of San Francisco. I sat in a crowded waiting room for about an hour and was dismissed.

This time, though, was a quite different and very unusual. I actually completely forgot about it the day of my summons. I was on my way out the door found a receipt from our vehicle tax bill. For some reason it reminded me of government issues and my jury service. Panicked, I called the number at the courthouse to see if I needed to serve. Oh, yes. My time was up.

I dropped my daughter off at the bus stop, rushed downtown, found the Wake County government parking lot and bolted in the door. Once there, I could relax in the jury lounge. I read my book, called my mom, ordered a coffee. It's really a lovely view from the 6th floor, the sunlight beaming in through the windows. I was recording the events in my journal when my name was called.

Me and 23 other potential jurors boarded the elevators in shifts to the 10th floor. Civil trials. We filed into the courtroom like a conveyor belt, taking our seats. In front of us were the plaintiffs, lawyers in pastel suits reminding me of a Matlock episode. On the defense, two dark-suited seasoned lawyers, more like L.A. Law.

They called 12 of us to the stand and in a bizarre moment, I was chosen as juror # 1. My heart pounded in my chest as the everyone watched me take my seat in the Jury Box. The questions started. Questions from the judge, from the plaintiff, from the defendant. Jurors were dismissed, new ones called. More questions, more dismissals. Hours passed. We broke for lunch. Came back. More questions, more dismissals. This continued for 2 more days.

Most of the time, we were asked to sit in the jury room adjacent the courtroom. By this time, we've all gotten to know each other. We can't remember names so we use our juror numbers. Number 2 jokingly complains about being number 2. I think we were referring to the bathrooms at just about that time. Number 3 has the boldness to ask the questions we all wonder about. She develops a relationship with our bailiff, a very tan, very weathered war veteran. We call him Buffalo Bill. He gives us a crackly laugh and reports our questions to the judge in all seriousness, like, can we have beer and pizza at lunch? Number 10 reminds me of one of my uncles, making hilarious comments while reading the paper. Number 7 reminds me of someone at my church. It occurs to me that this entire jury reminds me of people that I know or have known. I start to feel like I've known them all of my life, even though it's only been 3 days. I wonder if the older you get, the more you have this feeling. The feeling of familiarity with people you meet.

Finally on day number 4, the trial begins. We hear from the officer on the scene, the medical examiner, the coronor, the daughter's teary testimony. It was a heavy morning. We come back from lunch and hear from the doctor being sued for medical malpractice. The questioning gets intense. We all feel anxious. Suddenly, there is a pause. The doctor shudders, his head limply falls to his shoulder, his eyes stare blankly into the distance. We look at each other, we look at the lawyers, we look at the judge. The lawyers rise from their seats, calling his name. We're dismissed to the jury room.

Juror 11 sees the ambulance pull up in front of the courthouse. Juror 6 listens at the door. We wait in anticipation, wondering what's going on.
We chat, we joke, we laugh. Nervous energy. We wonder if the lawyers can hear us. Time crawls. We're finally called back.

The judge apologizes and tells us that he feels we cannot be a fair and impartial jury due to this event. He calls a mistrial.

And that's the end.

We file out of the courtroom in a daze. The lawyers ask us about our feelings of how things went. We talk openly now, feeling relieved. We talk with each other about the bizarreness of it all. We go to the 6th floor together for our parking validations. We walk to the parking garage together. It's like we don't want it to end, this strange experience. Should we exchange numbers? Emails?

But, no, it's only been 4 days. Just enough time to become comfortable together but not enough time to keep in touch. We get into our cars and drive home. Back to our real lives, our work, our family, our friends.

In a strange way, though, I'm sure I'll meet these people again, sometime down the road. There was just too much in common to not cross paths ever again. As sure as I am of the sunrise and my daughter's smile. These are 4 days that I will never forget, 12 far-from-angry jurors that will be a part of my life forever.

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