Thursday, September 01, 2005

Jury Reunion

Last week, in front of Fairway, I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. Then I realized, it was Helen from my jury group! Not that Helen and I ended up being great friends or even exchanged any sort of contact info after our jury stint, but it was nice to reminisce. It was a little reunion on the street with one of my old jury buddies.

I had jury duty in December 2004, and I had the best time. After my experience, I urge everyone to do their civic duty and get on a jury! I told some people at work that jury duty was the best vacation I ever had. I only had to go in for about 4 hours a day, was out by 2PM, and then got to have the rest of the day to myself. Being near Chinatown, I also got to have dim sum every day. And the best part was that I was still getting paid my salary (I realize that not everyone on jury duty is this lucky.) I must have garnered a few strange looks as I cheerfully whistled while walking into the jury room. The sun was shining. I was on jury duty!

During my jury stint, I was interviewed for two trials. The first trial was a robbery with a judge who was the funniest guy ever. I actually later found out that he wrote the book, Carlito's Way. This guy was like that eccentric judge played by Paul Dooley on The Practice. Does anyone remember him? He was that crazy judge who was disillusioned by the judicial system and who would turn his court into a kangaroo court sometimes.

Anyway, Judge Torres was so funny. He'd interrupt everyone and always had some quippy remark to our answers to his background questions (i.e., our jobs, age, hobbies--I have no idea why he asked that.) He'd wave his hands in the air and chastise the lawyers for asking us "ridiculous" questions. He was hilarious.

The next judge I encountered was this quiet older woman and she was presiding over a drug-trafficking case. But the lawyers provided some more caricatures. The prosecutor was this mousy brown-haired white guy who just had no charisma whatsoever. I felt so bad for him.

The defense attorney, on the other hand, was like Johnnie Cochran. He'd wave his arms everywhere, screaming and yelling what he had to say. At one point, he rolled his pen off of the jury box ledge and onto the floor to demonstrate how without reasonable doubt, the prosecution's argument just "falls to the floor." Upon saying "floor" he stamped his foot to the ground like some televangelist.

During the jury interviews, we encountered some strange characters. One was this hippie woman who was a sculptor. Well she immediately got dismissed when she said she believed that all drugs should be legalized. But no way was I gonna say something like that. Jury duty was my ticket for a paid vacation from work and lawyers and documents that I had to deal with at the law firm. Probably the most provocative thing I said during the entire experience I said was that I did not believe a police officer to be any more of a credible witness than anyone else just because he was a member of the force. If anything, I really dislike the police because I think a lot abuse their power. The latest anecdote was how I heard a cop was caught looting TVs from a store devestated by Katrina. Um...where's he gonna plug it in? And dude, TVs don't float well.

We also had a trapeze artist in our jury pool. The judge asked him where he lived. "A tent," he said. "I travel with the circus." The judge had this quizzical look of disbelief on her face. "What?," she asked. The guy answered "Oh that address is just an office. I travel in a trailer with the Big Top Circus [which happened to be performing at Lincoln Center at the time]." The entire room, including the bailiff and lawyers were laughing. The judge was just dumbfounded. This had to be the most bizarre thing she had ever heard.

Well, in the end, I got picked. It was like my own Sally Field "You Like me, You really like me" moment. Hooray. Since I worked for a law firm, my managers just had to grin and bear it since obviously it'd be pretty embarrassing if they weren't supportive of me fulfilling my civic duty.

The trial was BOOORRING. The arresting officer gave the longest testimony and his examination went on for two days. The rest of the witnesses were short and quick and then it was time for the fun part: deliberation. The judge read us the charges again and gave us standard rules for jury conduct and then we were sequestered and left to our own devices.

I won't go into the complex legal nature of overcoming any burden of proof and finding someone guilty except to say that it is very difficult to say with any certainty that someone is guilty. Doubts gnaw at you and you try to be objective and not bring in any of your own personal views or experiences into the mix. But that's what makes jury duty so interesting. Juries, by nature and necessity, are random. Our two lawyers had done a very good job of selecting a diverse group of people, people who I probably would have never met otherwise. Our group included an inner-city high school teacher, a publisher, a corporate headhunter, a nurse, a doctor at St. Vincents, a couple of IT professionals, a PR guru for Crobar nightclub, and a legal case manager (me).

Our group deliberated for about a day and a half. Throughout it all, we got along very well. There were no jury power struggles and everyone listened to one another. We all had this bond and could make fun of everything in the courtroom and laugh conspiratorially. We took our job seriously and it was a bit unnerving to realize that you could send this person to jail. Although, I didn't let this my jury duty take over my life. On our second day of deliberation, one girl announced to us that she had been "haunted" by this whole experience and then started sobbing, almost uncontrollably. I was like "Whoa. I didn't take it THAT seriously."

In the end, we found the defendant "Not Guilty." Having rendered our verdict, we were done. The judge thanked us and dismissed out and I left the courtroom wondering whether I would see any of my jury buddies again.

Well, it happened last week, and I felt like I was seeing someone I went to high school with. Ah, jury buddies. Everybody should get one.


Kristy said...

So now, being someone you went to high school with, out of your group of 12 which one would I be? I think I'd like to be the publisher. Then maybe I could get paid to read all day. =)

EM said...

kristy, as another high school friend, i may have to fight you to call dibs on being the publisher. don't think i'd have much interest in the other jobs. except maybe the headhunter. oh, the power...the absolute power!!!

terrychocho, which one was the girl you ran into again?