Thursday, April 22, 2010

ADAM 802

Cue up the Bob Seger; OK? Tuesday I spent practically the entire day in the Middlesex County Courthouse, a courthouse where I have probably been as an attorney several hundred times over the course of the past sixteen years, in a room I had never seen before: the jury assembly room. Having never been summoned to court for jury duty prior to Tuesday, I know not whether the other twenty counties Statewide employ the same system as Middlesex County does for identifying potential jurors. In Middlesex the formula of choice is, "First name + juror number = New Identity." Had I been permitted to retain either the paper badge containing that magical information or the cool plastic carrying case that lugged it around all day and protected the badge from all elements (both the natural and man-made variety and including but not limited to the incessant and very unpleasing sneezing and wheezing emanating from a woman seated two rows behind me for most of the morning) , the experience would have been a complete victory. Exiting the courthouse with neither in my possession really cast a pall on the whole day.

Proving the genealogy of Murphy to be indubitably Gaelic, my best-laid plans for the day were waylaid by the rules of the courthouse. First problem - while as an attorney I stroll in and out of the Middlesex County Courthouse with my Dictaphone in my bag chattering away, on Tuesday morning as a regular member of the citizenry, my Dictaphone was deemed contraband. Rather than stay by my side all day, it chilled on Skate's front passenger seat, which was where I returned it to rather than surrender it to the Sheriff's Officers at the security checkpoint. And I greatly appreciated their understanding in allowing me to hoof it back to my car (gimp knee and all) as opposed to making me give it to them. A very cool thing to do and I thanked both of them for it.

Curiously, while Dictaphones are not permitted in the courthouse, laptop computers are. I say 'curiously' only because the stated reason for not permitting a Dictaphone is that it could be a distraction in the courtroom. Yet in Middlesex County, other than purses/pocketbooks, all of us when picked to take the elevator ride upstairs to an actual courtroom were directed to put our bags (including our laptop computer cases) in a locked storage closet at the front of the room. My point? The Dictaphone that I was told I could not bring into the courthouse for fear that I might use it in court was an item that I would have been directed to leave with my other belongings in the Jury Assembly room.

Given that my intended course of action was to spend the day dictating, my laptop was comfortably sitting on our kitchen table when I reached home Tuesday precisely the same place where I had last seen it that morning. More important to me in my day-to-day life than Murphy's Law is honoring the Hanklin Gonzales Rules of Conduct (a/k/a "The Five P's: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance"). My failure to adhere to them on Tuesday was wholly avoidable and entirely my own. Due to my callous disregard for them, I accomplished far less than I had intended to when I rolled into the Ferren Parking Deck on Tuesday morning.

Among the other things that had not occurred to me on either Monday night or Tuesday morning was the fact that my name might get drawn as part of a pool for a criminal case. Guess what kind of case my name was drawn for? From 11:30 on until day's end I was among the people whose name could have been selected to fill one of fourteen seats on a criminal case that was getting ready to be tried before Judge Toto. I sensed that I was in a strange land when I entered His Honor's courtroom with the rest of my posse (that is what the cool kids call those whose first name/# combo gets called aloud in the Assembly Room) and did not recognize either of the two attorneys seated at their respective counsel tables. Considering so much of my nonchalance regarding any potential service centered on the fact that there appeared to be no chance that attorneys on a civil case would select me (presuming my name even came up) to be on their jury, given the manner in which I earn my living, being part of the pool for a criminal case threw a gynormous Matzo ball into my best-laid plans.

I shall never know whether I would have been considered "jury-worthy" by either the Assistant Prosecutor or counsel for the defendant. Given the sordid and frankly disturbing nature of the allegations, I am not now - and was not then - disappointed that I did not get the chance to find out. With about sixteen of us still sitting in the courtroom, either hoping to or hoping like Hell not to hear our adopted identity called out one final time, the two lawyers each proclaimed satisfaction with the panel as then and there constituted. After the fourteen occupants of the box were sworn in by His Honor's court clerk, Judge Toto thanked all of us for our service and excused us. As we were leaving his courtroom, I could not help but think of the Warren Zevon lyric, "Where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called."

By the time the little rag-tag group that I was part of was released from His Honor's courtroom and returned downstairs to re-assemble it was 3:30 in the afternoon. My fellow refugees seemed genuinely concerned that we might get re-launched to another courtroom (a fear that was assuaged not at all by the line of jury candidates bearing smiling countenances as they marched towards the "UP" elevator seen typically only on the condemned or the poor fellow forced to serve as Kate Gosselin's dance partner). In spite of having been nothing but wrong from the time my feeties contacted the hardwood floor of my bedroom Tuesday morning - and in simultaneous defiance and reaffirmation of the maxim, "Ain't it like most people, I'm no different, we like to talk on things we don't know about" - I assured them that there was nothing to fear because no attorney - including the one in their midst - ever asks for a new panel of jurors at 3:30 in the afternoon. Hell hath no fury like a juror who was 45 minutes away from three years of freedom when you ensnared him. I half-expected us - upon re-entering the Assembly room to be told that (a) while we were in the elevator New Jersey had re-instituted the death penalty; and (b) we were being sent back up to be among the candidates for a jury on a capital case.

Thankfully, reinforcing the relationship between blind squirrels and nuts, I proved to be correct for the first - and only - time all day. The very nice woman who apparently is the Jury Manager in Middlesex County announced to those of us who had not been placed on a jury that our service was over and upon giving up our name/number badges and our cool badge holders, we were free to leave. At 3:30 or thereabouts, it was over. My maiden was broken. I had survived my first foray into the hazy, crazy world of jury duty.

Having been released from service - with a promise of a 36-month exemption to boot - before heading back into the great wide open, I stopped to call my office and to check in with T as to the day's events. And as we were talking I realized that there were still several people sitting in the Jury Lounge, doing what a much larger number of people had spent the day doing: watching television. And not just television but one half-hour Judge show after another. It was a long, slow parade of black-robed persons being beamed out via cathode ray across the Jury Lounge all day on Tuesday. This too caused me to smile. Irony? Coincidence? I know not. All I know is that on Tuesday an extraordinary number of people - united in their hope to fulfill their obligation to our justice system by sitting through "one day" and not on "one trial" - watched the happenings on our insipid tele-justice system without interrpution. And who said life is not a spectator sport?

Only in America. And that - it turns out - is not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. At least not one day every three years.

(ADAM 802)

No comments: