Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happenings: Jury Duty - Day 2

Today was supposed to my day of liberation. If I got past day 2 without being picked for a jury duty, I'd be off scot free for six years. I was very hopeful. Alas...here's my story.

9:20 a Arrived a bit early for my 9:30 call time. Used the restroom. Found a seat on the aisle. Atmosphere to today is less tense. More jeans and polo shirts. People dressed in casual weekend wear. Also seems to be fewer people today for some reason.

9:40 a Roll call begins. 10 minutes of names called and people answering "here." A handful of no shows. After roll call, dead silence. I read my magazine.

10:30 a Men dressed in suits approach the administrative counter. This means someone wants a jury. Sure enough, woman gets on the mic. "This is the moment you've all been waiting for," she says. She calls out 30 names, each with a seat number assigned, which takes about 5 minutes. I'm relieved and happy when my name isn't called. Whew! Back to my reading.

11:05 a More suits - this time both men and women. A new panel is called. This time 35 names. My heart beats anxiously. And there it is, my name called over the loud speaker. Ugh. I can't believe it. Those whose names were called are asked to write their juror number on their questionnaire and bring it to the counter, then wait for instructions. We shuffle up to the counter and are told to go and have lunch and be back at 2 pm for jury selection.

2:00 p After a 3 hour lunch, I'm back. The prospective jurors from my case are the only ones left in the assembly room. Everyone else seems to have been let go for the day. I overhear confused murmurings about where we should be going - were we supposed to wait in the assembly room or go to the selection room? I wait in the assembly room.

2:05 p An announcement that the prospective jurors on my case should now go to the selection room behind the Statue of Liberty mural at the back of the room. I'm expecting to go to a courtroom, like I did in both my cases in LA, where a judge will preside over selection, but instead, we shuffle into a windowless white walled room stuffed with numbered chairs and one long wooden desk where the opposing counsels will sit uncomfortably close to one another during voir dire.

The judge, who curiously isn't wearing his robe, just a suit, stops in briefly and tells us we're breaking at 4:30 p, no matter what, and we may have to come back tomorrow. Groan. Then he leaves, leaving the attorneys to deal with us. I feel like I'm back at school, except the teacher's left the room.

Attorneys says they need some time to look through our questionnaires and study us. I feel scrutinized. I try to remember what I wrote on the questionnaire.

3:00 p Attorneys are finally ready to question us for jury selection. They are looking for 6 jurors and 2 alternates out of 35. My odds of getting off are not bad. He asks if anyone can't serve on Friday. A bunch of hands shoot up. Everyone seems to have some excuse. Argh. My odds are getting worse.

Plaintiff's attorney gets up and starts explaining and questioning. The impatience in the room is palpable. The natives are getting restless. Some jurors talk back to him. Others make disgruntled murmurs as he questions people. A man and women in the back almost get into an altercation. The attorneys are already mad at each other. When they leave the room to confer with the judge, the room erupts in derisive chit chat. This is a rowdy crew.

The attorneys return. The plaintiffs counsel resumes, looks flustered at times. Then it's the defense's turn. A Joe Pesci lookalike and a woman who whispers to him, but never speaks to the jury. More questions.

For an hour and a half, lots of questions from which it's hard not to get a picture of what the case is about and what the lawyers wants us to think or not think. They stick to questioning the first 16 prospects only, leaving the rest of the group bored and restless. The 16 think they'll be off after today if the lawyers decide to let some of them go. But no such luck....

4:25 p The attorneys thank us for our time. What!? The natives are restless. Do we have to come back tomorrow? they ask. They run to get the judge.

4:30 p The judge tells us we ALL have to come back at 9:30 tomorrow. People are upset, esp those among the 16 who thought they were done. People start walking out as the judge is talking.

I'm disappointed. I can't help thinking if this were happening in a courtroom, with a judge dressed in a robe, keeping order--as, by the way, it happened in LA--the natives wouldn't be so unruly. Then again, these are New Yorkers. So far, my jury experience in NYC is not as awe-inspiring as it was in LA.

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