As my first civil act of 2004, I reported for jury duty today. I don’t use the term "official civil act," because I haven’t yet had the opportunity to be civil in any sense of the word. Given the opportunity to spend New Year’s in San Francisco, I have been more concerned about reveling, not being civil. Civility could wait until my return to San Diego late last night.
When I received my Jury Summons about four weeks ago, I didn’t properly process all the implications of reporting on the first working day of the New Year. My first thought was that it would be good to get it over with. However, I should have thought about how busy it would be as the judicial wheels once again began to turn after the holiday season – and the busier it was, the more likely that I would be needed.
The morning started off bad enough with either my alarm failing to sound or me failing to hear it. Regardless, when I awoke, I had less than 45 minutes to get up, get dressed and get downtown to the San Diego Hall of Justice. Convinced that the police would put out an affidavit for my arrest if I were late, I quickly scurried my law-abiding ass out the door.
I was actually kind of excited about going to the Hall of Justice – heck, maybe I would even bump into the sultry Wonder Woman, who in the embodiment of a corseted Linda Carter fueled a number of adolescent fantasies. If she happened to be off fighting crime in her invisible jet, there was also the possibility of accosting Superman, Batman, or at the very least, one of the second-tier Super Friends. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Wonder Twins turn themselves into a glass of ice water and a dairy cow – at least I wouldn’t go thirsty.
The tension mounted as traffic was threatening to keep me from reaching the courthouse by my court-appointed time. Luckily I arrived two minutes early, kissed my dutiful wife and hopped out of the car and up the steps. I quickly glanced around to see if Aquaman might be sitting outside on a cigarette break. No luck, however, I did spot the infamous HomelessMan, along with JadedCityEmployeeMan, but no trading card quality super heroes.
As I opened the double glass doors, I realized that all my rushing had been in vain. There was a huge line of solemn-looking individuals holding Jury Summons forms waiting for safe passage through the metal detector. A real test of an individual’s metal, the machines were manned by no-nonsense, steel-jawed law officers, who stood in stark contrast to the lackadaisical TSA agents I had recently encountered on last night’s flight back to San Diego. These latter officers carried guns and appeared to be looking for any excuse to use them.
Once past security, I was herded into the inappropriately-titled Jury Lounge. A blatant misnomer, as there would certainly be hours of sitting in uncomfortable chairs with hundreds of strangers, but definitely no lounging. After 15 minutes or so of non-lounging, we were greeted by William H. Macy’s character from Sea Biscuit. There was a striking similarity that extended as far as his slicked-back hair, animated gestures and over-enthusiastic voice. However, the clip of his voice was much slower, more akin to someone speaking to children or foreign tourists.
As part of the orientation, the mock Macy gave us an 8th grade civics lesson on how the government was divided into executive, legislative and judicial branches, and that the judicial branch was the only one that relied predominantly on public citizens. He then broke out in a song and dance routine that centered on a lonely bill on Capitol Hill. Okay, that last bit didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t have seemed too out of place if it had.
We were then informed that we should be prepared to serve for at least two weeks, and if that wasn’t possible, we should see "Jury Services" right away in order to reschedule for another time. They were pushing this really hard, so I was really surprised when only a small percentage of people got up. I suppose that, like me, people just wanted to get it over with.
According to Mr. Happy, if we weren’t picked right away, we would most likely be waiting in the "lounge" until mid-afternoon. I felt sorry for the unfortunate individuals who hadn’t brought anything along to pass the time. Myself, I had brought a newspaper, book, and laptop. If I exhausted all those divertissements, I was going to take a stab at drafting my own Middle East peace plan. Heck, anything I came up would be just as likely to succeed as the latest round of efforts.
Finally, I was given my opportunity to serve. My name was called to report to Courtroom 53 in the adjacent County Court House building. I packed up my things, exited the Hall of Justice, crossed over to the Court House, proceeded through the metal detectors and ventured out in search of number 53. Two escalators and an elevator later, I found it – only to be told by the bailiff that the two litigants were still in pre-jury negotiations, and that it was best to report back to the lounge.
This news was met with a mixture of annoyance and elation. The annoyance with being turned away after successfully navigating the elaborate courthouse labyrinth quickly mutated into joy fueled by the hope of a possible dismissal.
I quickly made my way out of the building and back through security to the coveted Jury Lounge in the Super Friendless Hall of Justice. Luckily, with all these trips through security, the metal detectors weren’t set to airline-level sensitively, which can be set off by the amount of iron digested in a 12 oz. can of V-8. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the detectors with both my shoes AND belt on…scandalous! Only my cell phone, Palm Pilot and laptop were subject to X-ray quality scrutiny.
After an hour or more of waiting, the courtroom 53 vagabonds were called into Jury Services and honorably discharged from service. Apparently, our assigned litigants had hashed it out without our help – maybe after peaking out the window to see in whose hands their fate would lie. Regardless, I left the courthouse with a keen eye for any opportunity to bum a ride home in the Batmobile.