Jury Duty, part 1
By Hal Collier
I retired 4 1/2 years ago. I spent my entire 34 years in patrol—you know—the “Backbone of the Department.” I spent 19 years working “Grave Yard”. That’s the midnight to 8 A.M. During that span I spent a lot of time in court after working a whole shift. I couldn’t tell you how many times I finished my shift and spent the next 8 hours in court waiting for the slow wheels of justice to turn. The early years we were compensated with 3 hours, no matter how many hours we were there. Some days we got out in 10 minutes, but others we were there when the sun went down. Often we drove home at 6 P.M. and were expected to be back at work in 4 hours. OK, that was the job and we accepted it.
As a police officer we are exempt from “Jury Duty.” That all changes when you retire. The chance of a defense attorney wanting a retired police officer on a jury judging his client is very slim. 18 months ago I received my first jury duty summons. I called in for 5 days and was not asked to report, piece of cake.
In October, I received another letter informing me I had jury duty. I called in for three days and was told not to report. Then on Thursday, I was advised to report to Criminal Courts Building. That’s downtown. I spent more time in that building, than with my kids growing up. Now, the County of Los Angeles treats people selected for jury duty with kid gloves. Just kidding, they have you park a 1/4 of a mile from the court house, but it’s free. You sit in a large room, maybe 250 people who were not able to come up with an excuse. I got there early and got a comfortable chair. You get the orientation, explaining how glad you should be that you can serve. They try to cheer you up by telling you they pay $15 a day, but only on the 2nd day.
Two hours later, they call 40 names and send them to a court as potential jurors. Some come back early, I can see why. They have “probable cause stop” written all over them. For my non-police friends that means they beg to be stopped by the police by their appearance. The potential jurors are randomly picked by a computer. Some get picked 2 or 3 times, while I miss the first 4 jury calls. I figure I’m sitting in a lucky seat.
Fast forward to 3 P.M. except it hasn’t been fast. I’ve been sitting in this room for 7 1/2 hours, the lady behind me has been trying to cough up a lung, the guy in front of me has been snoring for 2 hours and the lady next to me has been on her cell phone for 6 of the 7 1/2 hours. I’m thinking of asking her for a job because she must be pretty damn important.
The calm is broken when the Juror coordinator steps out of her office and says the next jury panel will have special instructions. The room goes silent, the lady next to me hangs up. The coordinator says the next jury trial will last about 30 days, that’s court days, 6 weeks plus. Figure in Thanksgiving, they also close the 3rd Wednesday of every month, budget cuts, including any other excuse that comes up. If I get picked for this jury, I’ll be eligible for Social Security when the trial is over, that’s if there still is Social Security.
The coordinator reads off the valid excuses for not being on a 30 day trial. I just missed the one being pregnant and due within 2 weeks. I have one of those sinking feelings, you know—the one where you think you forgot to pay your taxes. Well sure enough, my name is called. I try to induce labor, nothing. We are directed to the hall outside for special instructions. I immediately scan my group, the snoring guy is there, the lady coughing up a lung is there, the lady on the cell phone is missing, that figures. I’m a dead duck, I’m going to get picked. I figure a 30 day trial is some high profile trial, maybe murder. Shame it’s not Polanski.
We are given our instructions and told that we have to call Tuesday night to see if we have to report. She explains that not all of us will be called to report. She has a smile on her face; I suspect she is trying to save her butt. She is surrounded by 50 people, some unstable, who have just been told they might have to spend the next 6 weeks deciding if some dirt bag should go free. She finishes by telling us we get to leave an hour early, nice touch. We all pile into the elevator to leave, it’s like identifying a loved one at the morgue. No one’s talking, just a lot of deep sighs. I suspect shock. I can’t help myself, I proclaim, “What a perfect ending to a nice day”. I get a nice laugh. Another says, “Well, I hope we don’t see each again”. Shit, if I’m on this jury they’ll pick me as Jury Foreman. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut?
We all head out to the 1/4 mile hike back to our cars, this time it’s all uphill. Did I mention the parking is on top of Bunker Hill? I’m trying to remember where “Angels Flight” is. I find my truck in the Disney Parking lot on the first try, not always easy after some of those “28 hour awake” days I mentioned earlier. I turn the ignition on and my truck will not start. After 3 tries it starts. I’m wondering what else can go wrong today, then I remember its 3:30 and I have to drive through China Town to get home. I pull into my driveway and ask forgiveness for whatever I’ve done to deserve this day.
I was afraid to check the mail, might be an audit notice from the IRS. The puppy was glad to see me; she didn’t have anyone to play with all day. I don’t know what to do with her if I have to serve 30 days. I’m still thinking they won’t want a retired cop on a jury but after today I’m questioning my instincts.
This saga will continue next week. If you have advice or a like story, I like to hear from you. I’d like to think I’m not the only smuck.
The above story is true, the opinions are of the author.
So how was your day?
P.S. The pauses were where I had to get up because my butt was falling asleep after 7 1/2 hours sitting on it yesterday. Then again, maybe I should get used to it.