Thursday, February 24, 2011


Standing with the other suckers roped into jury duty for twenty minutes or so, waiting for the court house to open.  When the doors are finally unlocked, we shuffle obediently through the metal detectors, find the restrooms, make note of all the vending machines and finally make our way to Room 303.

"We'll validate your tickets when you're dismissed for the day.  Please take a badge and have a seat," says the pleasantly efficient blond in the surprisingly low-cut silver top.  She'll say it a hundred times or more as the jury room continues to fill.  It is now a quarter to eight, and the wait begins.

And how lucky for me.  Though most people in the packed room sit quietly, reading or messing with their phones, I'm sitting in front of two right-wing nutjobs.  They don't seem to know each other, but they feel amazingly comfortable sharing their noxious world views with each other.

It starts out with one of them going on about the "cowardly" Democrats in Wisconsin, which leads nicely into some anti-union bullshit, and then it goes downhill from there.  By the time one of them is waxing nostalgic for the eighties--"We had a good president, and kids could fight.  None of this fucking stuff about bullying.  Who is some committee to decide what a bully is, anyway?"--I start to loathe the criminal justice system.  Imagine having your guilt or innocence decided by these goofballs.

Fortunately, the Donald Westlake/Richard Stark book I brought along provides excellent distraction--damn, that guy could write!--at least until the person in charge appears at the front of the room and instructs the right side of the room to follow her for orientation.  Unfortunately, I'm on the left side, which means I get to listen to more pearls of wisdom from the cornfed Glenn Becks behind me.  It's not even eight-thirty.  Shit.

I'm already up to page 50 in my book when the person in charge--who tells us her name, and it confirms that she is not in fact the woman I once had a mild crush on many, many years ago--reappears and leads us down the hall to a surprisingly disheveled courtroom, with boxes piled in one corner and a rack of folding chairs against a wall.  She rolls out a vintage Zenith, pops in a VHS tape and our orientation begins.

As befits a tutorial presented in an obsolete format, the video walks us in the most dated way imaginable through the essential stuff we need to know about being a juror.  One of the most important things it stresses is to avoid reading newspapers or watching TV.  Uh, right.  This tape is being played to a room full of people with cellphones and iPads, who can easily find out anything they need to know in seconds, and we're being told that we can have loved ones cut out any relevant stories from newspapers before we read them.  I know that Polk County has had to make some pretty severe budget cuts, but would it be too much to ask that our orientation material be produced in this century?

The tape ends, and we're addressed by a judge, who reiterates half of what we've already heard, then apologizes for the age of the video.  The idea of skipping the video altogether and merely having the judge address us from the get-go apparently never occurred to anybody.  After all, that would speed up the process, and God knows we wouldn't want that.

Back to the jury room, where names are called for potential jurors for specific trials.  I'm one of thirty potential jurors for a trial being overseen by Judge Rosenberg, whose name is mentioned half a dozen times, as in "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please line up in the hallway," or "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please wait to the left of the jury room," or "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please wait."

So we wait in the hallway.  And wait.  And wait.  Conversations start, then peter out from lack of interest.  People lean against walls or marble columns, walk around briefly, the lean some more.  All thirty of us watch, mesmerized, as an elderly gentleman polishes the balustrade, and shortly after wondering whether "polishing the balustrade" works better as a euphemism for oral sex or masturbation I realize it has been years since I've been quite this bored.

What was supposed to be a fifteen minute wait stretches to an hour.  It's obvious that the case we were to hear is being settled, but nobody keeps us informed.  Finally some functionary who is different from all the other functionaries we've seen this morning gathers all the Judge Rosenberg jurors together and tells us the obvious: The case is settled. "However," she adds, "this does not mean you are being released from service.  There is one other trial scheduled, and we may yet need alternates for the two other trials getting underway"--and here she checks her watch in an absurdly theatrical manner--"shortly, so please return to the jury room and wait."

Which we do, for another hour or so, until another yet another functionary appears, telling us to go home.  I wait for the line to thin out before having my parking ticket validated by the blond in the surprisingly low-cut top, which is now covered by a white shirt buttoned to the neck.

Someone must have said something.