Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Or duty-filled. I'm home from this morning's jury duty and tremendously relieved to be relieved after just three hours at the courthouse. Other than this splitting headache.

It ended very much in the same way it started. Everyone showed up at 8:45 a.m. ('cept for the one dude who trotted in at 9:05 a.m. and was told he was too late. Don't mess with the courts of law, my tardy friend.) Everyone left at 10:55 a.m., forty dollars richer and carrying away a free pen, a free pocket calendar, and as many generic certificates of appreciation as anyone cared to grab from the unattended stack. "We appreciate your service," said the organizing clerk. "We appreciate your service," again and again, like water torture.

But there were no court cases for us to hear. We almost assembled into juries--sets of 6+2 alternates for the city court, laying down the law over misdemeanor offenses. After standing in line, filling out the paperwork, making small talk and exchanging niceties with strangers (Cold outside. Mm-hmm.), after reading the pamphlets ("Jury Handbook," "Jury Service in New York State"), newsletters (Jury Pool News), and whitepapers ("Conduct of Jurors"), listening to the commissioner of jurors reiterate the various one-liners in the jury handbook (you were selected from one of several lists), and after watching a twenty minute video covering everything from trials by ordeal (so unfair! the innocent sank while the guilty floated!) to some New York high court judge explaining that jury duty was more significant than voting because juries are few and voters are many, we took a ten minute break.

Thirty minutes later--seriously, if you can believe it, the duty was more exhausting than reading this entire entry about the duty--the organizing clerk returned to the large room and said, "Do you want the good news or the bad news?" The loud-mouth in the corner (he and his new friend one row ahead of where he sat had been carrying on all mourning long about how his employer wouldn't pay him for jury duty {cheap!}, how he hates one-way streets {un-navigable!}, how he had to pee {bathroom?}, how he hadn't had any breakfast yet and it was almost lunch time {hungry!}, how he likes to get up at 4:00 a.m. {ambitious!}, how taxes hit hardest those who work hardest {libertarian!}, how everyone in the room looked so dejected about their duty {concern!}, actually it was his unbroken yammering that poisoned the otherwise tolerable scene; I watched the people around me sigh, clear their throats, put away their reading materials, frown, look over the tops of their low-riding bifocals, and so on, as he talkity-talked on and on and on) spoke out: "We don't care." But the organizing clerk wouldn't hear it. She wanted us to choose from among the options: good news, bad news.

Fine, bad news first. "You won't get to see me again for another six years." Now if that's the bad news, the good news was going to be something really special. And it was. We were sent home. The day's three cases had been settled and juries weren't needed.

I won't dwell on the process (this one's it, no more entries about j-duty), but what tired me most of all was the feeling of being plucked randomly out of Onondaga's middle (a jury of quasi-peers), being hewn toward a kind of dulled perspective (abandon all predisposition; put away all electronics), and then enjoy the significant contribution you are making to democracy. In fact, the movie--very important stuff on why juries matter and how to be a good juror, narrated by Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer--seemed strangely propagandistic. The video must have been ten years old; a much younger looking Diane Sawyer motivated us, more or less like this, "It might seem like you're just sitting around, but you're not. You should be proud that you're getting ready to contribute to one of the most cherished processes in America." Shouldering the mother lode of American justice, and so on. But it was hard to concentrate on the second thing she said, right as it was, because the first one was completely contradictory to the experience of the morning.

Anyway, I'm off the list for six years (should have my diss together before then, knock on wood), and I managed, despite the loud-talkers to pace through a few more pages of Latour's Reassembling, the chapter on matters of fact and matters of concern.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 17, 2007 1:50 PM to Slouching Toward