Monday, August 31, 2009

Happenings: Jury Duty - Day 1

Another step closer to being a full-fledged New Yorker today. Served my first day of jury duty. Having postponed my service in May due to vacation plans, I had almost forgotten about my jury summons for today. Stuck a post-it on my computer last week as a reminder.

I served on two juries when I lived in California - one in Los Angeles and another in Santa Monica - both good experiences, so how does NY compare? Well, it's only been one day, and a short one at that, but I'm impressed by how efficient the system is. No snags, no lines, no confusion. Not when I needed a postponement, and not today either. The courts are definitely older. Santa Monica was a nice courthouse.

Some observations from today:

8:45 a For some reason, I always get a little turned around near City Hall, but finally found 60 Centre St. Went through xray security and took elevators to 4th floor to jury room 452. Last time I reported to 100 Centre St, where I spent 5 minutes until the guy announced that anyone who couldn't serve should go to the postponement place. 60 Centre St feels cozier somehow, though strangely laid out (two rooms bridged by the area where the administrative desk sits), with wood panelling and massive historical murals of NY on all the walls.

The room is eerily quiet. I take a a chair on the aisle in the back. The handful of laptop carrals in the back are already taken - probably need to arrive at least a half hour early to get those. I look around. These chairs are pretty comfortable - mauve leather padded chairs, row after row, filled by individuals in various states of fatigue/unease/comfort/anxiety. Anxious woman with tight bun and red lipstick to match her red button down shirt clutches her summons, eyes darting. Balding man with facial droop stares blankly at newspaper in his lap. Coffee cups, backpacks, and loafers everywhere. Must be comfortable for jury duty.

In front of me, a twentysomething woman, no makeup, hair pulled into disheveled mop on the top of her head, dressed in hoodie and sweats - another woman identical to her, same hoodie and hair style sits on the other side of the room. Coincidence? Middle aged woman across the aisle from me, embarrassed when her phone starts ringing, "I have to call you back," she announces testily to caller and slams her clamshell shut.

8:55 a Black woman whose reassuring voice conjures Nell Carter speaks to us on the mic. Be sure you're in the right location, she tells us...on the right date. We're in the civil division (shucks - I was hoping for a Law & Order type experience). You'll be serving anywhere from 2 days- 2 weeks, from about 9-5 daily. This is your last chance to get out. Got a doctor's note? Can't serve 2 consecutive days? Has your employer written you a note saying business can't continue without you (you're important!)? If so, go get a postponement.

(A flurry of activity. Some people leave.)

Now I'm going to show you this delightful film on jury service, she says. Starting tomorrow, you won't have to get up so early. And we'll do roll call attendance. The water fountain's here, in front of my desk. Please don't put your face on the water fountain (filthy people!) - use the cups we provide. You can use your laptop anywhere in the room. Wifi should work, or so they tell me. See that room back there - it's the lunch room - if you want to eat, eat in there. Keep your area clean. We don't have much of a cleaning staff (read: one old guy who doesn't get paid a lot). Those desks near the door hold stacks of jury booklets, info cards and questionnaires - grab them. Use a pen that will allow the questionnaire to be filled in the entire way through (huh? - oh carbon paper!) - we have some up here, if you need one.

Oh right - qualifications that excuse you from jury duty:
  1. you're not a us citizen
  2. you don't live in Manhattan, Roosevelt Island or zip 10043.
  3. you're not 18 +
  4. you're a felon
  5. you served in the last two years - it's too soon!
  6. you're the sole caretaker for a child or old person - but that child better not be 14 years old!
Anyone need to leave? Okay. Here's the video, she says.

Half the room gets leave?, to grab the booklets & questionnaire. I wait until the rush is over. Don't want to lose my aisle seat. Video starts. Can't hear. Volume's too low. Are we watching Jesus of Nazareth? What are they doing to these people? Ah, medieval justice. I get it. We've come a long way.

Now here comes Ed Bradley to narrate stuff about the legal system...I look around. No one's watching. Next comes Diane ends. Not sure I'd pass a test on what I just saw.

9:30 a Orientation resumes. Same woman. If after 2 days you're not called, you're free...for 6 years. Whooppee! Well, that's just for state court, not federal. Right now, lawyers are deciding whether to go to trial or not. We'll pull 30-50 of your names to make up a panel, if they need a jury. There's a sign-out clipboard - write your name down if you need to take a break, even a bathroom break, so we know where you are. (Later I notice people going to the bathroom without signing out.) Call us if you're running late tomorrow. Oh, no cell phones in here - I'll read this official directive - only use in corridors or outside, etc. If you don't you'll get no credit, incur fines, etc...

9:50 a Here's how to tear up your jury summons to get the important parts. That one's your ID. You keep that. The rest you come up and give to us - that's how we know you're here. Remember tomorrow we'll do roll call.

10 a (Another woman, a smart looking white lady gets on the mic). Hi, I'm the supervisor of jury rooms. Just the fact that you're here helps the legal process. The lawyers are scared of you (they don't trust you plebes) so they'll probably settle, but we'll know by noon. If they don't need you, we'll let you go for the day (really? sounds too good to be true)

Everyone resumes reading. I catch up on 2-wk old New Yorker.

11:20 a (bespectacled guy gets on the mike). okay, there was maybe one case that needed a jury, but they settled (b/c they're were afraid of you common people), so you're all dismissed. Come back tomorrow at 9:30 a. Remember we'll take attendance.

(Mad rush to the exits. Some very excited people in the crowd.)

Exciting stuff, huh? Not a single panel called, but what do you expect in the week before Labor Day? So far so good. Let's hope I don't get on a jury tomorrow.