Thursday, June 28, 2012

Civil Servant: My Day Of Serving Jury Duty

On Wednesday, I was called to offer due diligence as a civil servant of Kings County, N.Y.—for jury duty. This marks the third time I've been beckoned for the joyful task... once in the 1990s in Manhattan when I lived in Tribeca, and six or so years ago here in Brooklyn. In both cases, I was never so much as interviewed to be on a jury.

But this time was a little different. I came within a hyena's hair of being selected for a litigation trial that begins July 10. (Fortunately), it appears my big mouth and tendency to have an opinion about any & all likely kept me from duty.

I arrived at the Kings County Courthouse on Adams Street in Brooklyn Heights at 8:30 a.m., and joined at least 400 others in a large auditorium, which was actually quite modern, offering free wireless access and comfortable seating. After watching the requisite film about how important jury duty is blah blah, a gentleman explained the lay of the day. We were expected to sit until 5 p.m., waiting to be called for potential jury service by any number of trial attorneys.

If our name was called and we weren't present, we were punished by returning to the jury pool again. If we left before 5 p.m. or were late returning from lunch, shit outta luck.

I sat from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and scratched my butt, as dozens & dozens were called out... Finally, around 3:30 p.m., my name was called and I joined about 25 others in "Room 5." We sat in the sterile gray square box, as two attorneys representing opposing sides explained that they were involved in a litigation trial for personal injuries. Attorney 1 represented Plaintiff X, who had been "injured." Attorney 2 represented Port Authority, which oversees transportation between New York and New Jersey.

The case, which has been treading water for 4-1/2 years, would now go to trial to decide if the woman deserves a big-ass cash settlement from Port Authority, or whether she had either lied or exaggerated the extent of her injuries, and would thus receive nada.

All of us filled out one-sheet questionnaires, asking about education, the neighborhood you live in, where you were born, career, hobbies and whether you've been the victim of a crime, been convicted, served on a trial previously, work as a doctor, lawyer or in the insurance biz...

First, among the 25 or so of us, about 6 or 7 alleged they'd be on vacation and out of town when the trial is scheduled in July. While they thought they were clever enough to dodge duty, the attorneys then let them know they'd probably go back in the pool and their Wednesday duty wouldn't count on the books (oh, har har!).

From there, six of us were called to the front row to be grilled for 30+ minutes about our opinions regarding litigation cases. Yup, I was among them. One of the questions: "Do you feel like we are an over-litigated society?" That's when my gums started flapping. I said that I believe many New Yorkers actually hope they might trip on a sidewalk crack so they can sue the city: "People stump their toe and start sniffing for money." I also noted that every morning I hear ads on the radio for lawyers fishing for folks that have been injured, promising lucrative settlements.

The grilling continued, asking whether we had prejudice against folks with foreign accents, knowledge of the McDonald's hot coffee-granny case, whether we read the news media... on and on... We then took a break, returned and the attorneys informed us that the 15 or so who (were not taking vacation during the trial and) had been sitting quietly behind the in the front row were all dismissed... And that among we six that had been interviewed, four had been selected to be on the jury (among what will ultimately be a total of six jurors and two alternates).

The first name called was a barely audible painfully shy guy of Asian descent... Second was a barely audible shy young white American woman. Then a very intelligent, college-educated former Wall Street black woman from Barbados... And then (deep breath)... a well-spoken black 20-something American guy. The two omitted: ME and a woman who worked for the criminal justice system and had served as a witness in several trials.

With that, my duty was done and I returned to the auditorium to wait another 15-20 minutes until we were  released at 4:30 p.m. As I walked into the beautiful sunny late afternoon with my "Juror's Proof of Service Certification," good for eight years, I felt pretty invigorated. I soaked up an experience that is certainly far from any ordinary day. And I had done my duty, come out clean on the other side and now don't have to give this another thought until 2020.

I figure by then I'll be twice as opinionated... or barely capable of remembering my name or how to tie my shoes and zip my britches... so that no attorney would give me a second glance. Right? *