My Last Jury Duty of the 20th Century

I had jury duty spanning six days spread out over the period of December 6th to 14th, 2000. The first day of jury duty was a scramble to find out where my jury duty was. Downtown Brooklyn hosts quite a few courthouses, some state and local and some federal. The form said I was supposed to get there at 8:45 AM. But I couldn't find the right court house! At one point I ended up walking in the completely wrong direction. And when I went into one court house and asked for directions they sent me to the wrong building! In the course of going to a couple of wrong places I ended up getting my camera X-rayed by the security measures in place down there. I've just gotten the film developed, and it looks like I was lucky and dodged that bullet. When I got to the place I was supposed to be at, 15 Willoughby St., I realized the camera was in my bag and so I took it out. But the guards confiscated it from me. They gave me a receipt and I got it back at the end of the day, but I wonder why they don't want a camera in there?

Eventually I got to where I was supposed to be, at about 9:35. Thing is, nobody noticed. They were still giving detailed instructions about filling out the forms on the cards we'd been sent. I'd already filled the forms out in thirty seconds, so I was ahead of the crowd. After the cards were filled out, broken off from the main form and handed up to the front they showed us a video. The video was hosted by a couple of people from the TV program 60 Minutes. I guess they need to dumb these things down in order to communicate to the really stupid exactly why they're there. Besides the fact that they pandered to organized superstition, I found the video annoying, repetitious and insultingly stupid. When they started using old Perry Mason TV show clips to illustrate things I simply refused to watch it anymore.

After the video they left us alone for a while and I settled in and read some of Herman Melville, A Critical Biography by Newton Akin. One thing I noticed that was annoying was that they had a sign up in the Central Jury room, and elsewhere as it turned out, saying that they wanted to make our stay nice and all that. At one point it said that if we found any problems, "i.e. untidy toilets, broken pay phones,.... etc." that we should report them. Of course they got their Latin abbreviations wrong. I.e. stands for id est, which means “that is.” What they should have written on that sign as “e.g.” which stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” Part of why I found this annoying was that this is in a court house where there are lawyers and judges in charge and they're always spouting Latin all over the place. Maybe this is why they took my camera! They don't want the world to know what dunces they are.

They also had quite a few signs up all over the room, and as I later found out all over the court house, saying that you weren't allowed to use a cell phone there. They even had one large sign about how they'd confiscate it from you if you used one. So I watched someone sit under that sign and have his cell phone ring. He ended up talking on the phone for quite a while. Others answered their cell phones and had conversations. This disregard of the signs, without consequence, emboldened others unlimber their cell phones and make outgoing calls. At one point I think there must have been a dozen cell phone conversations going on in that Central Jury Room. There was sporadic cell phone use throughout the day and the people in charge did nothing about it. Why have signs with such draconian warnings if you do nothing at all about the violation of the rules?

Eventually I ended up getting on a jury. It involved an accident between a crane and the Roosevelt Island Tram back in 1997. We sat on the jury for a few days and the plaintiff had doctors and other people telling us their about how seriously injured the plaintiff was and how much money they'd need to take care of the injuries. We only got to one defense doctor who made contradictory conclusions about the injuries involved. All of this involved visual aids like skeletal models of the backbone and blow ups of X-rays and MRI images.

Interesting to me was that this ground floor court room was right in the corner of the building. So we were in a room on the corner of Willoughby and Pearl Streets. Old Brooklyn neighborhood, that.

They usually had us waiting, sometimes for hours, before they brought us in. So one day they said to be there at 11:00 AM. I got there a bit late, and found a guard and a court clerk waiting for me at the entrance to the Central Jury Room! They'd called for us at 11:04 that day. Another juror was significantly late, and we all got a small lecture from the judge when we got in. By this time there were only six of us, and there were no alternate jurors in case anyone didn't show up for some reason.

So the next day I rushed to get there and ran across Adams St., which is the very busy entrance to and exit from the Brooklyn Bridge, and risked life and limb. I got to 15 Willoughby St. at 10:02. But the line to get in was enormous! The problem was that there were people who apparently couldn't understand the use of the X-ray machine and the metal detector. Now I don't mean the guards working the apparatus I mean the people trying to pass through it. One after another people couldn't figure out how to put their bags onto the conveyor belt that would bring them through the X-ray machine. I mean, it's pretty easy stuff; “Put your bag here,” clearly describes what you have to do. Don't any of these people go to supermarkets? What do they do when confronted by the same belt mechanism at a checkout counter? We also had people who couldn't figure out what removing all of the metal from your pockets meant. Some of them took the change out of their pockets one coin at a time, passing through and setting off the metal detector between each coin. Others had jewelry and watches and other things that came off one bit at a time as they kept setting the metal detector off and discovering more metal to be removed.

And I'm trying to get in through all of this because they're going to call us again and if I'm late the judge had already promised that he'd publicly embarrass any juror who was late again! It was a stressful morning.

I got into the little jury room they had us in at about 10:14. Luckily, they hadn't called us yet. After a while, and a bunch of waiting, the judge came in and said the parties had settled the case and we were let go. But before he dismissed us the judge asked people what they thought of the case. I said that I didn't know because I had pretty much only heard one side of the case. Most of the other jurors took this opportunity to tell him their conclusions about the case. But you're not supposed to form a conclusion about the case until it's all over! It turns out that they'd already made the decision that the plaintiff was mostly faking it. They based this decision on watching the plaintiff not showing signs of pain at all times, not getting up to move around often enough on some days, on the way one doctor was dressed and the fact that he used big words, and other extraneous observations! I'd thought that the doctors had explained the more arcane medical terms they'd used quite well. But apparently I would have been in a minority on that jury had we gone to deliberations.

Quite an adventure among the normals, for me.

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