Friday, June 5, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Courtroom

A funny thing happened to me last Friday. I was called to jury duty, and I went thinking that even if I did get selected for a jury, the trial would only last a matter of days – no big deal. I began to look forward to it, thinking a trial could be interesting, and perhaps give me some fodder for a story. But when I arrived, packed into a courtroom with fifty other potential jurors, the judge explained that he expected the trial to last a minimum of five weeks, and could easily stretch into eight weeks!

Now, I’m as civic minded as the next fellow, but like everyone else in that courtroom, my mind began to race, trying to think of a valid excuse that would keep me off the jury. The problem quickly became, that I couldn’t think of anything – no important deadlines that couldn’t be pushed back, no travel plans, not a damned thing – and I wasn’t about to lie. So, even though I am not a religious man, I began to pray that I wouldn’t get called. The odds were in my favor. There were easily more than fifty people to choose from, and all they needed were twelve jurors and six alternates. That gave me almost a 75% chance of skipping out.

After an hour or two of the judge hearing people’s excuses and dismissing them, the numbers were greatly reduced but I still had a better than 50% chance of not being picked. Then the questioning began. The judge called twelve people to the jury box. He began by asking each one a series of questions: Name and address, occupation, how long that they had lived in Marin County, married or single, any kids – that sort of basic information.

The problem was, each time the judge would ask a man if he was married, and the answer was yes, the judge would respond, “And what is your wife’s occupation?” Each time a woman commented she was married, the judge would respond, “And what is your husband’s occupation?” The judge assumed everyone who was married was in a heterosexual relationship.

That’s when the funny thing happened to me. Being a legally married man in a same sex marriage, I got mad. And with each new person questioned, I became hotter under the collar. I began to pray that they would call me to the jury box and question me. It no longer mattered that I would end up sitting in that damned courtroom for the next two months, listening to the lawyers drown on. I wanted more than anything to, when asked what my wife’s occupation was, to say, “My HUSBAND is retired, and I RESENT the fact that you ASSUMED I was straight.”

My palms became sweaty; a headache began to throb. I envisioned a look of surprise, turning to embarrassment on the judge’s pink face. But each time a person was dismissed by the lawyers, to be replaced by a new potential juror, it was always someone else. The number of people dwindled, my chances were looking up, but then both sets of lawyers found everyone in the jury box acceptable. The judge smiled, thank us all and dismissed us.

I was crushed. DAMMIT! I wanted to demand my civic right to be on the jury, to be questioned by that judge. I could taste telling him off, but I would never have the chance.

Of course, an hour later, after a Starbucks latte and some cool-off time, I was grateful to have not been chosen. But he sure had me going for a few hours. Funny how something so simple can change your whole outlook on civic duty.


Karen Walker said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! This is more like it. Great story. Thanks for sharing.
Karen Walker

Larry-bob said...

You don't specify if it was a criminal or civil case. As someone who works as an assistant on the defense side, I would like to encourage my friends if you're going to try to get bumped from jury duty, at least make it so that the prosecution side are the ones who feel they need to bump you, so as to save the defense's preemptory challenges. Things are stacked against defendants enough with most judges being former prosecutors.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alan, This is a great story. If you tweeted this one, I didn't see it. I can really feel the emotion and sympathize. How often do we plan our strategy, know exactly how we're going to assert ourselves, and then don't get the chance?