Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Waste of a Perfectly Good Day

Today was a gorgeous winter day in Tucson, cloudless in the mid-60's, the very reason people flock here to winter. I experienced none of it. Instead, I spent the day experiencing the ebb and flow of the Pima County Superior Courthouse. Yes, dear readers, I finally fulfilled my civic responsibility and reported for jury duty. And, oh, what an experience it was!

At least I didn't have to report at 7:30 a.m. like the majority of my comrades. That would have double sucked. I reported at 9:00, actually closer to 9:25 because I couldn't find anywhere to park. There's always a lot of press about how Tucson needs to restore the downtown area, people bitching about how deserted it is. Well here's a tip: IT'S BECAUSE THERE'S NOWHERE TO PARK! I drove by three full parking garages before finding a hotel parking lot tucked in an alleyway. By the looks of things, many of my fellow jurors also had trouble finding parking because by the time I finally made it to the courthouse, the line to get through security stretched nearly the length of the building.

I'm not going to gripe about security because I'm glad it's there. I don't want lax security in airports, and I don't want lax security in courthouses. If anything, I'd like to see more security; dudes in full riot gear toting around M-16's, grenade launchers, bazookas, anything to make any disgruntled family members think twice about smuggling in firearms to settle a score. But that's just me.

I get through security without a hitch and head to the jury assembly room. The jury assembly room is a large room with rows upon rows of chairs and a check-in desk at the back. It is filled to capacity, standing room only, and about 110° from all the heat emanating from the mass of bodies occupying every last nook and cranny of the room. Oh, this is going to be a great day. I join another line, and in ten minutes I've checked in for my day of hell. Item #1 on the list? An orientation video! I settle in next to a support column in the middle of the room with my piping hot Starbuck's and scan the room for open chairs. There are none. I'm sweating buckets and the coffee isn't helping matters any, but there's no way in hell I'm not finishing my coffee. The day's going to be long enough as it is, and the least I can do is face it with my full daily dosage of caffeine.

The video ends and a lively Hispanic woman takes over the show from a hand-held microphone behind the check-in desk. She continues to give us information, one tidbit being the prohibition of beverages in the main assembly area. Turns out there's a jury "lounge" in a small room behind the check-in desk, so I grab my Starbuck's and abandoned my post at the post in order to conform to jury room policy. To my delight, I find an empty chair on the opposite side of the "lounge" which will be my new post for the next 45 minutes.

At 10:30, my name is called. Judge Fell, 5th floor. Crap. I grab my stuff and head to the elevators with roughly 70 other people. We then stand in the 5th floor hallway for another 45 minutes before being herded into the courtroom. The 6th Amendment gives all people accused of a crime the right to a "speedy and public trial". Now I'm not privy to all of the pre-trial activity going on behind closed doors, and I'm sure some of it is important. But what I do know is that we did a lot of standing around, staring at walls and waiting for something, anything, to happen. To me, "speedy" just didn't seem like the right adjective to capture the essence of this particular trial.

My main source of entertainment during our wait, besides David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, was an older man carrying a large maroon Bible on top of what looked like a clipboard draped with an orange and yellow striped dish towel. I was intrigued by the dish towel. Why did he have it? What was it's purpose? Why was it so meticulously draped over the clipboard? These are questions that will plague me for the rest of my life. While the 70 of us stood facing the door of the courtroom waiting to get in, he stood at the door facing us. Again, why? No idea. He was very courteous to the court personnel as they flitted in and out of the courtroom, greeting them with a hearty "Hello!" or "Good morning!" or "Let me get the door for you!", but grew more and more visibly agitated with every minute that passed without him being in that courtroom. It was then that I decided he was sucking up to try to get on the jury. Every couple minutes he'd shuffle up to the door and peek through the crack to try to see what was taking so long. Someone's going to come flying through that door and lay that old dude out flat, I thought. Thankfully, and somewhat to my disappointment, I must confess, it didn't happen. At least his sucking up didn't get him on the jury.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in jury selection. Twenty four jurors are selected for the main pool while the rest of us are along for the ride. It is a capital murder case and the defendant is a young, clean-cut, Hispanic kid. He doesn't look like a murderer. He looks scared. The judge gives some initial instructions and then begins questioning the jurors in the main pool. I am amazed to find that nearly three fourths of the jurors have been the victims of crime: assault, auto theft, identity theft, and tons of burglaries. It kind of freaked me out.

The judge finishes his initial questioning, then turns it over to the attorneys. The lead prosecutor starts off asking specific jurors questions about medical experience/training, gun ownership, and physical conflicts. He spends a lot of time getting details on the various physical altercations of the jurors. He seems to approach this lightheartedly, often asking whether the juror "came out on top" and peppering their stories with humorous personal commentary and causing several outbreaks of laughter throughout the courtroom. I looked over at the defendant. He wasn't laughing. I don't suppose I would either if it was my life on the line.

The defense attorney takes all of two minutes in his general inquiries, leading me to believe that he, at least, has a grasp on the concept of a speedy trial. The rest of the jurors are then shuttled in and out of the courtroom for the rest of the afternoon, spending most of that time out in the hallway while the attorneys interviewed individual jurors. They finally settled on the jury at around 4:00 when we are mercifully released from our service. The highlight of my day? I read half of my book.

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