Trapped in Voir Dire Straights

by Calendar Hacksaw

 

I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago from the folks down at the courthouse, inviting me to drop by and sit on a jury. It sounded like a good idea, so I took a day off work and drove over to the county seat just to see what it was all about.

Imagine my surprise when I got down there and found out that about 700 other people had received identical invitations.

The entrance to the courthouse was guarded by metal detectors and enough Sheriffís deputies and marshals to staff a presidential inauguration. They made me take everything out of my pockets and put it in a Tupperware bowl before walking through the detector. I never realized I had so much embarrassing stuff in my pockets. And then the metal detector went off again, and I had to pull out even more embarrassing stuff. I had no idea those things have foil linings.

Well, some young women came out to serve as "jury calmers," and they herded all of us into a big room and made us sit down for about an hour.

Then they picked about 60 of us for a trial expected to last ten court days, not counting Tuesdays, Thursdays and holidays, and said, "Go up to Department 20 on the 6th floor and wait around up there."

So we did, all 60 of us, waiting our turn on four different elevators, and there wasnít anything to do up on the 6th floor; no judges or lawyers or anything like that. But we waited there anyway, sitting on the hard marble floor, for a long, long time, wishiní we had got Razor scooters for Christmas.

Eventually a door opened, and a grumpy old bailiff with a bad attitude came out. He invited all of us to come in and sit down, which we did, and there was a judge in there and a couple of attorneys and plaintiffs and defendants and other bottom-feeders. Apparently, they had been in there all along, having a secret meeting.

For the next few hours, the judge and the attorneys selected some of us potential jurors to answer questions, and after they were satisfied with what they heard the judge impaneled a jury of 12 peers, plus two alternate peers, and sent the rest of us home with validated parking.

During voir dire (Latin for "public humiliation"), one prospective juror gave his occupation as "stockboy at Costco." Further interrogation revealed that his wife is a bankruptcy attorney. I wanted to shake his hand.

 

I didnít learn much about being a juror that day, but I did make a few observations, which Iím happy to share with you.

  • Young lawyers look and act like bantam roosters in a coop full of seasoned Rhode Island Reds. Theyíre so taken with themselves, and oblivious to anyone around them. Most act like they are living their lives in a made-for-television movie.
  • The young lawyers donít seem to notice the older ones, who have been around so long theyíve replaced flair with competency. If I was going to hire a lawyer, Iíd get the oldest one I could find, preferably on his deathbed. I need all the experience and sympathy I can afford. Itís been many decades since any law school turned out a legendary lawyer, but I imagine lawyers say the same thing about cowboys.
  • On rainy days, lawyers have to wear overcoats to work, but once inside the courthouse they have to carry the coats everywhere they go. I felt sorry for them, lugging briefcases, umbrellas, cell phones, laptops, personal digital assistants and overcoats all day long. Itís not nearly as glamorous as the young lawyers seem to think. I imagine some cowboys feel the same way about dusters and saddles.
  • Itís pretty easy to set an overcoat down somewhere and forget it, and even a skilled attorney might have a problem proving ownership unless he had his mother sew his nametag inside it. I noticed that all the homeless people who live around the courthouse have nice overcoats. I guess there is justice, after all.
  • Courthouse cafeteria food is pretty good, but a little expensive. I thought I was just ordering lunch, but ended up with a full dinner instead. It set me back $7.
  • The poor people who come to the courthouse to face trial or serve on juries are able to afford cell phones and pagers, but canít seem to afford umbrellas. As a result, they get rained on and make the courthouse very humid and musty smelling.
  • There are some pretty good looking women who work at the courthouse; not many, but a few. The women who want to get noticed wear high heels that make a lot of noise when they walk across the marble floor. And, it works; everyone stares at them. But what it tells me is that they never learned how to walk properly in high heels. I think my mother told me that, although she was referring to women of ill repute. Same thing.
  • The jury instructions include a paragraph on appropriate dress, which says prospective jurors should "wear attire appropriate for the work environment." I never realized we had so many hookers and stablehands.
  • No one around here wears a hat anymore, except me. Some people I talked to said my "Caliente Construction Services" hat made me easy to find. I think thatís a good enough reason to wear one. The bailiff made me take it off in the courtroom, though, so I would look like everyone else.
  • The parking lot for jurors should be a reasonable distance from the courthouse. I felt like I was parking in Jawbone Canyon and hiking to Havilah, which would have been fine if that was what Iíd planned to do that day.

All in all, it was time well spent, and I learned a few things. Chances are I wonít get invited again for a year or more, which will give me ample time to finish cleaning out my wallet before encountering the metal detectors again, and maybe pick up a used scooter at a barn sale.

If youíre inclined toward a life of crime, hereís a suggestion: go down to the saloon late on a Saturday night and look at the people. Now, get up early the next morning and go to church. Chances are, the "faces you see in both places" will make up more than 50% of your jury.

You feeliní lucky?


Calendar Hacksaw hangs out at http://www.calendarhacksaw.com, and as he's getting on in years he's decided he can no longer live with deadline pressure. Therefore, from now on his column will appear only when inspiration strikes him, or for as long as the editor and publisher are willing to put up with his infrequent submissions.

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