[Disclaimer: this will likely be an uncontrollable rant only tangentially related to breast cancer. I'm still angry as I type. Oh, and I might be feeling sorry for myself. Be warned.]
I believe I said my next post would be about the exciting new Breast Cancer Resource Center that is being developed and started up right now in Riverside County. And that’s still true. The next post will be about that! It’s just that it’s an exciting thing and I’m really happy about it and therefore, given my present mood, could never do it justice. Oh, and speaking of justice….
I had jury duty today. Well, really this week. In the county I live in we have this (not so) fabulous system that could (and generally does) result in ruining your entire week because you are in essence “on call” for the whole week. You never know whether you’re going in to court the next day or not until 5:30 on the prior evening. Tough when one is a sole practitioner lawyer whose clients might actually need appointments. Today was my lucky day. I had to be in the jury room at 8a.m.
A little background. Three important facts:
1) 2 years ago when I was called I sat for 3 entire days in a courtroom while hundreds of potential jurors were voir dire-d (interviewed in plain speak) by counsel to see if they were fit to serve for 3 to 4 MONTHS (yes, MONTHS) on a triple murder case. In the first day when the judge excuses folks for “hardship” reasons I was resoundingly rebuked for even daring to try being dismissed (I was in a firm of 4 partners at the time…and we had what is known as an “eat what you kill system”–in plainspeak, if I’m not working, I’m not earning. And, um, I have a mortgage too. I was near tears at the thought that I’d be unable to earn a living for 3 or 4 months.) The judge said, “I’d be run out of town on a rail if I let a lawyer off jury duty. You can work evenings and Fridays if need be. Besides, you know as well as I do they aren’t likely to keep you on the jury.” The end. Meaning, even though everyone in the courtroom knew I was not going to be on the jury, I had to sit there for 3 days until another 12 people were selected. A complete waste of time.
2). This year I was called for jury duty right about in the middle of my chemotherapy sessions. This time the judge deferred my jury service until a whopping 6 weeks after I was done with all cancer treatments. Cancer!!! And the deferral request was made by a friend and criminal defense attorney!!! (Thanks, Tera!). If I needed a deferral past August 31st, I’d need a doctors note. I opted not to do that for 2 reasons. 1) I have terrible, terrible luck (hold that thought), and I figured if I deferred it again it would pop up right when Chris and I were supposed to leave for Maui and they wouldn’t let me out of jury service a 3rd time. Plus, the last quarter of the year is my busiest time at work, so I figured I’d better get it over with sooner rather than later; and reason #2) I’m not sick. So a doctor’s note that says I’m sick and can’t do jury duty would be a lie. I’m not comfortable with lying. Especially to a court. (Hold that thought.)
3) Every few years I try to take a few days off work to just be home–relaxing, catching up on projects, reading, returning to a more human status. I haven’t been able to do this in about 4, maybe 5 years for a variety of reasons. I scheduled the first week of the year off for just this reason this year and, ooops, breast cancer. No relaxing days off–those days off would need to be used for surgery, chemo, white blood cell drops and spiked fevers. So (stupidly) now that that’s all over, I thought I’d try again. I was going to take September 3rd and 4th off, right before the Labor Day weekend, and thus have a 5 day weekend. Hah!! Hah! OMG, HAH!!!
Off I march to jury duty today. I arrive at 8, whereupon they waste an hour or so of time having us watch videos that would bore most fifth graders to tears (and I don’t care how many flags you wave, we ain’t buying that you have one moment of respect for us as we pay our own parking fees, huddle like cattle, and are left in standing room only hallway on a hard floor outside a courtroom for a half hour with not so much as a peep as to why). Then at 10:30 they announce that my group isn’t needed back until 1:30. I’m sure that was really convenient for the people who drove an hour to be there. I at least got to go into my office for a bit.
Back at 1:30 and oops, the clerk meant 2:30 but we may as well stay put now. At 2:30 she sends us up to the courtroom–to stand in the hallway on the hard marble like floor (there are two benches that seat, oh, call it 10 people. 10 really skinny people. None of whom live in Riverside or were called to jury duty that day). There were 70 of us. Finally at about 3;10 they herd us into the courtroom. The courtroom that seats 55. To make this less long (is that possible?) suffice it to say the judge thought he was a comedian and that somehow we’d be more interested in his routine than in, say, actually getting on with the business at hand in the hopes that the jury would be selected and the rest of us could have our lives back. Apparently he was completely unaware that a hostile crowd of 70 who had been held hostage most of the day, and had spent the last 45 minutes standing like cattle outside his door, was not likely to find him even remotely amusing.
The judge did the usual “hardship” screening. Basically, if you would suffer a financial hardship by serving on this jury (for a trial that might last 2 days), or had a vacation scheduled that was non-refundable (by which he means show him your airline ticket), or have to be in school, or have a medical reason you can’t serve, this was your moment to speak. This was the moment I was shot down in flames 2 years ago. I was nonetheless all set with “I’m self-employed as a lawyer and while normally 2 days would not create a financial hardship, I’ve been in treatment for breast cancer all year [and probably, I would have pointed to my hairdo at this point for emphasis] and I’ve only just returned to practicing full time.” But then, I listened to what people were saying. And there were indeed people near tears. People who only had part-time jobs on which they were feeding a family of 164 and don’t get paid for jury duty; people who’d been unemployed for 6 months and had their first interview for a possible new job tomorrow; people who had 5 year-old triplets and no one else to care for them and couldn’t afford day care; those sorts of stories. And they were telling the truth. It’s obvious that it’s just really bad out there. (And if you don’t believe me, check out this article on Jury Duty. And thanks Sara in Vermont for the link!).
I thought, okay, that’s hardship. He’s not going to let me go. I will be suffering less than these people even if I end up serving for the next two days. Clearly, I’m never going to get time off to relax, but heck, these people are enduring tough times. And I sat there. I didn’t beg to leave, I didn’t lie, I didn’t use the Cancer Card. And then….
And then this woman stands up and goes off about how her husband is a cop and therefore she thinks all cops are perfect and wonderful and as far as she’s concerned if a cop arrested this guy, he’s guilty, so she couldn’t be fair. (Okay, where’s the hardship here people??? Notice that “I’m a completely selfish, unreasonable bitch who thinks I”m entitled to special privileges and am willing to lie to get out of jury duty even if it means making completely ridiculous statements directly to a JUDGE in a PACKED courtroom” was not one of the hardships the judge asked to hear about? Did you notice that? Because she didn’t.). The judge does a reasonable job of questioning her in a manner that makes it pretty clear that he’s on to her and that, p.s., she’s full of crap. But then a second woman stands up and does the same thing. Judge repeats his act, (although this woman is horrid enough to claim that she even thinks the LA Rampart cops–you know, the ones convicted of crimes–were perfect and wonderful.) The judge does not dismiss these two for hardship (duh).
Post-hardship dismissals there are probably 40 people left from the original 70–including the two lying whores and a woman whose English comprehension was so poor that there was no possible way for her to be a decent juror, bless her heart for wanting to try. 12 people are sent to the juror seats along with another 6 alternates (non-English speaking is in the jury box; two lying tramps are not). A series of questions ensue, during which we learn nothing interesting except one guy who answers whether he’s married or not with “it depends on who you ask.” (He’s gay.) And one of the jurors has gotten about 4 tickets in the last year and thus doesn’t trust cops as far as traffic violations go. The judge is still doing his routine and taking way, way more time than it should (I don’t need the funny asides and neither does lady justice), and meanwhile I’m watching the clock and thinking “there goes my vacation. He won’t get past these 18 and we’ll alllllllllllllllllll have to be back here tomorrow.”
Sure enough, they end the questioning of these 18 and it’s obvious ticket-collecting guy is going home, and they may not want the not-quite-English-speaking lady. And I think, “Okay, but that still leaves 16 people; plenty for a jury for a trial that only lasts 2 days; we’re good. There’s hope.” Judge huddles with the two lawyers (who together have a combined age of 32, I’m convinced. And that should tell you how (not) major of a case this was). After about 5 minutes of huddled whispers and at about 4:35, the judge announces that ticket-collector and….the two lying whores!!!! are excused and have completed their jury duty!! Let me be clear–the two lying whores were not in the jury box!! They hadn’t even answered the voir dire questions. So basically, he rewarded them for standing up out of order, talking about things nobody asked about, lying through their teeth, not following procedures (again, what hardship????) and basically just being really bad human beings. The rest of us? All the rest of us have to report back at 9:15 tomorrow. And from what I can tell of this judge’s style, I’ll be lucky if I’m out of there by noon. More likely, I’ll be on this jury.
And here’s the thing–I realize we don’t want people who are so willing to so blatantly lie serving on a jury. But we also don’t (generally) want lawyers on a jury. So if I had to sit there for 3 days previously, and now a day and a half at least this time, when “we all know” I won’t be selected either, then why oh why weren’t these women made to sit there until they were called, questioned and excused in the ordinary fashion?? Why reward the ghastly behavior? All I can think is “I’m such an idiot for not lying!! I should have stood up and whipped out the cancer card!!”
Now I’m left wondering. It could be that the only people who actually serve jury duty are people who are too honest to lie their way out of it. Wouldn’t that be nice? But this judge has now made me feel like the old adage is true. A jury is made up of 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty.