Civic duty, legal loopholes and my day in Court

legal gavel wikipediaIt is hammered into every citizen (and aspiring immigrant) the importance of voting as an integral aspect of civic duty. Tell someone you did not vote in a presidential election and prepare for the ultimate admonishment. Ironically, tell someone you got out of jury duty and you get a high five. Tis the problem of a society steeped in civic misconception (having failed, if it was even offered, a fifth grade civics class).

Today, I am proudly performing my civic duty as a citizen of the United States. I am participating in one of the more “revered and honored” (well at least to those who understand how this stuff actually works) elements of modern society and a core to the foundation of the country I call home. The act of a trial adjudicated by a panel of ones peers in which i am called to be a juror holds a longer and more honored tradition than voting for governmental representation and affects the daily lives of people so much more than their insescent need to participate in the every forth year selection of Electoral College voters as part of the presidential process.

This is my story (insert cool Dick Wolf dun-dun sound effect here):

810 Hopped on the express 4-5 train out of Yorkville. I have said it before: the only thing express about this line is fewer stops than the local not the speed in which it travels.

840 Arrive at City Hall Station and being a vet of the MTA stood to the back of the train for an expedited exit only to be foiled by the BSA who had courted off all but a small segment of sidewalk exiting the underground forcing me through a roundabout approach to the court house. Thankfully their jamboree had not begun so i was at least spared the inconvenience of hundreds of young men in their Boy Scout regalia.

Gray sky overhead is a little foreboding. The design of the clouds over the building tops is nice though. The court house rises up into them masking the Brooklyn skyline in the distance and the kind of wrap it in a haloesque fashion.

855 Standing in line still. So much for the stated 15 minutes to get into the building posted in the line. And, here comes the rain.

915 Finally in the holding pen for prospective jurors. There is a film about justice playing that is deafeningly loud. This coming for a going deaf metal musician it must be … the elderly lady peering over my arm next to me agrees so it must be obnoxious, glad it is not just me. This film was made in what seems to be 1985, why is it soooooo loud? It must’ve been re-mastered. Damned loudness wars.

930 Announcements underway. Very important: if you cant be here for any reason get a deferral now otherwise fire and brimstone will destroy your should if you decide you need one after turning in your summons. No less than 25 times was it said. After a while i stopped counting, as it was beginning to feel like the kinds of college drinking game you regret playing the next morning. I regret playing now… also don’t leave for any reason at all or you will be marked absent and have to start over from the beginning. Do not pass go, do not collect your $40 stipend.

The room (actually the whole building for that matter) is beautiful. Historic. Hardwood high gloss polished wainscoting, grand marble framed doorways, murals depicting old New York. It would be more stunning if not for the highly stale feeling florescent overhead lights and lack of windows. Talk about duplicity. That’s probably today’s theme.

1000 Finally, coffee. And, silence. WiFi is spotty as anything and damningly slow. My old 14.4 was better than this but it sure beats a bricked device. Email responded to, New York Times pulled up for some early reading, iPod cranking hardcore punk. Ironic sitting here listening to Anti-flag don’t you think? This cup of coffee isn’t half had either. Then again it isn’t half good. But its a comfort.

Ive changed seats at this point to one against a wall far from the chatty old lady who seemed all too interested in my selection questionnaire and lack of a wedding band at my age (“are you a gay?” she asked obviously unaware that New York already approved marriage equality and the inquiry is just rude sounding like that in the first place)

Truth be told the crowd at unemployment when last I attended was much better looking than the jury pool today. Even a Newark airport terminal has prettier people than this and that’s my usual go-to description dregs of dress (those people, especially in terminal A got hit hard by the ugly stick. It’s almost like stepping off the plane and hitting the toxic Jersey air makes them that way on impact). I suppose more than one of these characters thinks if the look distressed enough they will not be selected. It really is sad when i am in the maybe 5% or so of the pretty people in any given room (this holding pen room in particular)… and that’s not bragging either, unfortunately.

I jest, there are a few snappy dressed, decent looking people here too. Not that I have any worry about telling my kids how I met their mom at Jury Duty… really, anyone dressed well seems like an attorney, works for the court, or realizes that if they look too smart they’ll be de-selected quicker. Really, I probably just need more coffee…

1130 Still sitting here with nothing very exciting happening. No cases have come through. No names are being called. The mic is off and the click of high heals against the well worn linoleum echos throughout this place as the dominate sound. Despite the aggressive announcement and posted signs the din of a few conversations wafts through the cavernous room. It is actually more pleasant than when I last served in New Jersey a few years back, but that’s not really saying much, considering that holding pen was more-or-less a Port Authority-style waiting area merged with a factory-style lunchroom.

Oh well, time to work on my fantasy baseball team for a bit. It is a disaster, by the way. And…another pitcher on the DL (god Gawd man, is there any reader that wants a specific pitcher removed from real life baseball, because I’ll just pick them up on fantasy for you right now). It is a good thing I have chalked the season up to competitive research for work and the sporting application we are building or this would be more painful. The Bouncing Souls are on the iPod so at least there is that to lighten the mood.

11:55 Someone’s name was called. Maybe we’re finally on our way?

11:56 False alarm. The court officer that came in needed to deliver a prospective juror some personal news and escort them out. No one even twitched. Barely anyone even looked up. I did. I hope everything’s ok for them. Back to Maya Angelou and email for now.

1220 It is quiet. Too quiet. Seriously, after all the clerks ranting not a single case has come through and we are going on lunch time. I have exhausted all of my necessary email correspondence for work, read my ten (free) Times stories plus everything worthy one a couple of tech sites like TechCrunch, Fierce Wireless and Gismodo as well as the MLB and HNL sites and several chapters of Maya Angelou. Sick of it All is blaring in my headphones and I am getting itchy for another cup of coffee.

My first thought at this point is the mere threat of a New York State Superior Court – Manhattan jury trial has forced even the most stalwart into submission and everyone is feverishly negotiating a settlement rather than face the mental might of a juror like myself. Either that or they smelled the juror that just set up home near me and settled their suits, which is also possible. And he is munching on chips like a Hereford grazing on dried grass, to boot.

100 And we are done. Dick Wolf had no idea it would be like this. One minute I am quizzically playing a brain teaser app (unblock, I think it’s called) while puzzling over a UI conundrum for an app I am leading product innovation on (multitasking at it’s best. the release of the red square is almost like the customer journey, how’s that for a metaphor?) and the next minute they are discussing dismissal instructions over the broken microphone. Did I mention that the announcements crackle in-and-out as if the FCC where dropping a swear-pause on this poor woman clerk, and all’s she’s trying to do is make bad jokes. This punk inspired mix I had on proved key to my sanity, or to quote old school, still quazi-punk inspired Maiden lyrics “I’m not a number, I’m a free man, Live my life where I want to.You’d better scratch me from your black book, ’cause I’ll run rings around you.” (thank you Bruce Dickinson)

I am somewhere between shock and awe… but certainly not complaining. No doctors appointments to reschedule. No wedding planning appointments to reschedule. No coworkers to pacify or projects to delay or meetings to miss or unpaid days off. And more importantly no one bitching the system mis-served them because they came to a non trial agreement of fair terms for their grievances. Justice, whatever that is these days, was served … even if not by me.

215 Is there anything malted vinegar doesn’t make better? well that and an English Ale. So after a prolonged dismissal experience and a distinctly non-express train ride back north here i am replying to emails, reviewing the mid-day edition of the Times and enjoying fish and chips under the canopy at the pub as the rains beat down on second ave around me. Can i tell you how good this second cup of coffee today tastes too? Brilliant … although it could be the caffeine deprivation talking too.

Am I disappointed I was not called for the next Manning or Snowe type trial? Yeah, maybe a little. That would be something to tell the next generation for sure. But I am equally as glad not to be on a hoax of a George Zimmerman or Casey Anthony trial (and that’s why I don’t want to live in backasswards Florida). There was something intriguing about the prospect of helping put some bad guy down or to help free a wrongly accused innocent person. But then again, I was on standby for civil court so it was more like the prospect of handing down a debilitating decision against a profiteering corporation to give the little guy the upper hand or saving some means-well from a spurious lawsuit.

I don’t think the Justice System is perfect for sure but I would like to think should I ever be entangled in it a juror like me might be there participating in it… even if my actual participation today was the threat of me being in the jury selection pool.

335 You’re still posting after leaving the Supreme Court House? Why yes, yes I am. A co-worker commented they were “away from my computer while IT updated it for several hours this afternoon” to which I quipped in reply, “tis ok I was away from mine while New York State updated its common law through court cases.” Albeit not wholly accurate it was still infinitely humorous … at least to me, and isn’t that what really counts?

The whole experience, my second in just over three years I think, was interesting. The technologist in me believes in the near future bullpenning potential jurors will be in online waiting rooms and interviews more intimately scheduled. I don’t see technology replacing the actual selection of a jury and certainly not the trial process anytime soon but a lot of today’s more administrative matters are easily taken care of without the inconvenience of waiting endlessly without information. Even though a few hours of my life (or day as it were) is a small price to pay there are certainly better accommodations for it.

The wheels in my head spin on the possibilities. Electronic check in rather than the paper process with digital real time verification for the affidavit and then the initial selection process uses a secure online questionnaire for the screening in place of the carbon copy printed one. If you survive this step and have the ability a secure video conference location for second questioning could occur or notifications for appearance requests could be scheduled based on proximity in real time location knowing average real commute times. In person is still required for final selection and of course for the trial but everything else including reporting notifications are much more dynamicly generated and efficient. This would widen the potential jury pool further while providing increasing flexibility to jurors and reduce a lot of the stop gap building upgrades needed to pacify remote working (or schooling) jurors during their current layover before assignment (or dismissal as it were). Seeing the tens of ways to game the current system today and many more in my previous experience this would be functionally no worse and given how readily people give up their digital fingerprint already the convenience this proposes i cant imagine the “average Joe” says no.

Anyway, the catty ladies sitting near me are both on their cell phones at the same time hootin’ and hollah’n away which is the absolute only downside to sitting here under the awning as the rain pitter patters on the sidewalk next to me, draught in hand, work emails clicking away and this blog post about to go live. Just remember, the threat of having me sit on a jury was enough to make an entire two days worth of cases disappear from the docket with all the parties settling. That’s how awesome I am… what did you accomplish today?


About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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