I woke up Monday, knowing I had Jury Duty, but the first thing that caught my awareness was that the air smelt of Del Mar, shortly before a storm from the west. The sort of storm that would rush in across the Pacific, making the surf choppy and worthless, and the sea and sky would meld into a gray mass, one indistinguishable from the other. In Chicago, there’s Lake Michigan, which being partly iced over, did it’s best to serve a similar effect but, instead, reminded me of Europe in the fall. The smell, however, was California.
I’ve escaped Jury Duty a few times before, and this marked my third call-up in Illinois, since moving here in 1998. This was the first time that I made it past the first hurdle, however. Before, when called as a Standby Juror (which means you stand by all day just in case a judge needs a jury), I was told not to come in. You call up the day before to check, you see. This time, they said ‘If your last begins with B, as in boy, through Z, as in Zebra, you need to present yourself for Jury Duty at the appointed time.’ So I knew I had to go down to the Criminal Courthouse by 9:30am Monday.
I actually stopped in at teh office for an hour before hand, to check messages but also make sure everything was okay. We’ve been having ‘issues.’ I dropped a copy off my summons on my boss’s desk and caught the 60 bus to 26th and California. As a note, if I buy a house, it will not be down at 26th and California. The best I can say is that the bus was relatively quick. But I only dip south of Madison for work, for Chinatown, or for a game at Comiskey. And when I go south, I rarely go west at the same time.
The bus was easy, though, and only a moron could miss the building. A met a little old lady who reminded me of Aunt Anita, clutching a sheaf of papers with a worried expression. She had never been there before. I hadn’t either, but as an experienced bus rider, I helped her find her way. With us was a young woman who was there to meet ‘someone,’ if I may be permitted to describe social workers and parole officers in such a way.
At the building, they split us up by gender to go through the metal detectors. As they did so, a guard kept intoning ‘Men to the left, ladies to the right.’ I made square dancing jokes in my head, up until he told someone ‘Sir, your other left!’ I laughed at this, and the guard, grinning, admonished me until I assured him I was not laughing at him but with him. At which point we both laughed some more. The signs said you weren’t’ permitted cell phone chargers, laptops, cameras, radios, or other such devices. As it turned out, those rules were for people who were at court for being ‘bad’, rather than jurors or people who worked there. Which was silly. They should split people up by reason if that’s the rule. I suspect they don’t want us to know that the guy with the GPS ankle bracelet is a criminal … note: we already do!.
The jury is segregated anyway, and all taken up to the third floor where they make sure you answered all your questions on the back of the form, check your name and address, and then assign you to a ‘Panel.’ The guy in front of me started in right away, saying he “wouldn’t serve on no jury” and stumbled into a slightly coherent rambling about The Man, police brutality, Whitey and so on and so forth. The woman to which he spewed this vitrol was also black. She was perfectly calm, never raising her voice or changing her ‘Would you like fries with that?’ tone. Not even when he called her an oreo. She just asked if he wanted to speak to her supervisor, game him directions, and repeated that she had no control over who was on a jury. He never answered her directly and just kept bitterly snipping like a 16 year-old who can’t borrow the car. He was treated like a 6 year-old who can’t have another cookie, in return. Finally she gave him his papers and told him to wait over ‘there’ until the supervisor came out. The super came out, they went away and a few moments later, the guy came back, sullen and swearing he’d never serve and he wouldn’t answer to his jury number.
We were all given numbers, mostly at random, and while they never explained it, I was able to deduce that there were 56 groups for the 44 judges in Criminal Court. The judges who needed a jury would ask for a panel or two, who would then tromp on down to a courtroom and be asked questions regarding their fitness as to serving on this jury. Those who weren’t needed were sent back to the room. Those who were dismissed were paid and got to go home. The rest of us waited.
The panel room was like a university lounge, with movie seating. It wasn’t unappealing, but it wasn’t anything fancy. I appropriated a table near the ‘cell phone area’, verified I was allowed to surf the net on my phone, and proceeded to too that. Alas, there was no WiFi, and the 3G network kept crapping out on me. A little after 10am, they had us watch a video staring Lester Holt, that told us what to expect. If you’ve ever watched Law & Order, you’re set. While we watched the video, the guy who wouldn’t serve on no jury was escorted out, never to be seen again. After the video, we got a lecture from a guy who looked like Randy Disher about how the rules on the wall and website were out of date. Laptops are okay, phones are okay in the phone area, MP3 players are okay, and news papers are okay, but you can’t bring the paper into the courtroom.
My panel was asked for a ‘head count’, as they’d ‘lost’ a juror. After that we waited. At 10:55am, the first panel (11) was called up. A couple minutes later, 15 and 39 were called together, and 10 was called 3 minutes after that. Another pair of panels (37 and 42) were called at 11:05, followed by 13 at 11:07 and so on and so forth. I actually took notes of who was called and when, as I was trying to figure out the reasons for the double calls. I noticed they always asked to see the Panel Number ‘ticket’ they assigned you before taking you to the courtroom. Probably they assumed illiteracy. As we all know, reading is optional. This was useful at about 12:15, when a woman in Panel 49 thought her card read 47 and didn’t go anywhere.
At 12:20pm, we broke for lunch and about 60% of the jurors had been called. They assured us that starting at 1:30pm, they’d need more of us, so we were to be back on time. I knew there was no Kosher food to be had in the area, so I packed a lunch and ate at my table. By 1:45pm, most everyone was back (some people skipped out for the day) but the staff didn’t seem to care.
By 2:30, the room began to resemble a scene from The Breakfast Club, where everyone is bored and slumped on their desks, right before the teacher walked in to ask if anyone needed the bathroom. People were sleeping, reading, playing with their computers, but it was unmotivating. At least in the morning, they’d been calling numbers, so you perked up hoping it was yours.
Finally as 3pm rolled around, they decided they didn’t need us. They took my name, gave me my check for $17.20, and cut me loose, just in time to catch the 3:30 bus back up to my office, and the normal 4:35 train home.
All in all, a useless day.