I haven’t been sleeping well for the past two weeks. And then last night I got hit by the perfect storm of sleep deprivation.
I worked until midnight, which spawned the same phenomenon that occurred when I stayed up late pursuing creative endeavors. I couldn’t turn off my brain.
In conjunction, I had to report for jury duty at 7:45 a.m. the next morning, which meant that I had to wake up at 6am.
I suffer from a problem where I can’t relax if I know I have an impending obligation. Even if it’s something I’m looking forward to. If I know that I’m going to a gallery opening at 9 pm, I’ll be preoccupied with it all afternoon. I won’t be able to start any activities because I feel the weight of my evening event.
So these two properties aligned in one evening, with the net result being that I literally got no sleep. Not a single hour. I stayed awake all night.
The San Diego county courthouse is located in a building called the Hall of Justice (which always elicits some comfort, especially to one familiar with the Superfriends). To get to the entrance, you have to walk past tall pillars. I’m a sucker for a building with pillars.
The San Diego county court system is the third largest in the nation, trailing only Los Angeles and Chicago. The room holding potential jurors is enormous. 900,000 people are sent summons each year.
Once inside the room, the way it works is simple. A person announces a list of names over a loudspeaker and tells them to report to a specified courtroom.
We were told at the beginning that this was an unusually heavy trial day with many of them starting.
My name was called early. I reported to Courtroom 45. Thirty-six of us waited outside of the room, waiting to be assigned seats. Eventually, fourteen people would be selected (twelve jurors plus two alternates). Therefore, the first fourteen assigned seats were the critical ones in the selection process since they were the default jurors. The judge, prosecutor, and defense would ask questions to gauge the jurors’ personality, views, and potential biases, and eliminate those people that were deemed problematic. Any of the first fourteen that were eliminated would be replaced by the remaining twenty.
I stood there, and had a feeling that I would be assigned an initial seat in the first fourteen. Just one of those feelings. A bailiff came out to greet us, and called out names in the order we would be seated. I was juror number five.
One of my first thoughts was this: I could be deciding this person’s life and I have not slept in a day.
The judge went through a very lengthy preamble discussing the case, the law in general, and responsibilities of the jurors. He then proceeded to ask questions of the jurors. He spent some time questioning me, and upon deeming that my experience and contacts would potentially make me biased, he excused me. If this were Survivor, I would be known as the first person voted off the island.
It’s an odd feeling being dismissed by the judge. I felt part relieved and part rejected.
(Authors note: The defendant was a pigeon and my hatred of pigeons came out in questioning.)
I returned to the enormous jury waiting room and found that I was the only one there. My name was soon called on the intercom. The woman in the jury services office said that since I was the only juror waiting right now, that I could leave for lunch. It was 11:30am. I was told to return by 1:30pm. I had two hours to stroll around downtown.
At 1:30pm the room filled up again. The jury office announced one name over the intercom system and asked that person to visit the office. That person was known as the runner. He or she would take an envelope and hand it to the bailiff of a specific courtroom. Then that person waited for the other thirty-five to forty jurors to arrive.
My name was called as a runner. Damn. I could get selected again. Normally I would embrace this opportunity. You got to take time off work and it’s paid. Plus, you were part of the process. But at this juncture, I had so much work to do that I wouldn’t get a day off, I would just have to work on it all night at home. The timing just wasn’t good.
As an aside, this was the second time I was a runner. I was also a runner in my first jury experience three years ago. Do you know what the probability of this is? There’s a one in forty chance of it happening once. But of it happening two out of three times? I should go play the lottery.
I delivered the manila envelope holding the forty juror names to the bailiff and was soon joined by the other jurors. The bailiff announced the seating order. This time I was not in the first fourteen.
Each judge operated his or her courtroom slightly different. This time, the judge asked all forty jurors to answer a set of five questions that were posted on the wall. They were: 1) State your job. 2) Had you ever served on a jury before? Was there a verdict? 3) Did you have any friends or family that were prosecutors, defense attorneys, or peace officers? 4) Have you, your friends or family ever been charged with a crime, a victim of a crime, or witnessed a crime? 5) Could you be open and impartial?
You would be amazed how long it took for forty people to answer these questions (two and a half hours). It made me realize two things.
The first is this. Job titles have become complex and vague. For half of the people, you would have absolutely no idea what they did for a living by listening to their job title.
No longer are job titles simple. No longer do you hear secretary or ironworker. You occasionally got engineer or teacher. But otherwise you heard a bunch of vague words strung together. It made me realize that I wanted no job that took five words to describe, since those numerous words were used to make something mundane sound important.
A simple hint: If it takes more than two words to give your job title, you may need a new job. In addition, I will always be suspicious of these people.
The second thing I realized is that succinctness is an unfortunately rare ability. The five questions frequently spawned needlessly long and extended stories.
Fortunately, jury selection was made before the end of the day, so we did not have to return the next. Some of the first fourteen jurors were dismissed and others added in their place. Up to juror number 23 was included. I was 25.