Saturday, May 22, 2010
that third cup...
Duty. Obligation. Responsibility. The social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force; "every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty"- John D. Rockefeller Jr.
I received a letter in the mail a few weeks ago. Stamped 'SUMMONS' from the City of Lakewood. I felt a bit of anxiety in opening the damn thing. What does the clerk of courts want with me? Anytime I get paperwork like that unexpectedly, I can feel my abdomen tighten with trepidation.
I’ve been called to serve on a jury and I must report at 9:00 am to the court house. My first thought it Oooh! Fun! It’ll be like on Law & Order! But I’ve never watched Law & Order, so immediately you can see my brain in out of skew.
The instructions listed were to call the day before after 4:00pm to make sure the jury is going forward. I’m to understand that many times cases get settled before they actually make it to jury selection. 4:01pm I place my call.
“Hi. I received a letter instructing me to call?” I ask the woman who answers the phone.
“Your juror number please?”
“Juror number 10.” I politely respond.
“Thank you, Nancy” I’m slightly taken aback that she know my name. Caller ID? No. She’s obviously looking at a list. “I appreciate your calling. The jury is not going forward this week.”
“Aw. That’s too bad. I was kind of looking forward to it! I’ve never been called for jury duty before.”
As these words are coming out I’m instinctively reaching for my shoe so I can insert it into the hole that serves as my mouth. Shut up Nancy, my mind is screaming.
“Really?” the lady chuckles. “Would you like to serve on next weeks jury? We rarely get anyone that wants to do this, they normally call with excuses to get out of doing it. Some of them are just priceless.”
It was too late. I could have said ‘No’, but I didn’t. She scheduled me for the following weeks jury. Juror number 19 this time.
Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to leave, I started putting on the usual daily uniform. Jeans, tee, cardigan, flip flops. I looked in the mirror and thought, Duh. Show some respect to the court. You can’t wear jeans. What were you thinking? I quickly, as I’m running a little behind, change into some trousers and pumps. The rest is fine.
At the courthouse I’m guided to the appropriate window to sign in. “Good morning. Please sign your name here and print your address below, please.” I do so and respond with good wishes for their day as well. The sun is shining, the air fresh. It’s perhaps one of the nicest days we’ve had in weeks…and I’m headed into a courthouse. By my own doing from opening my pie hole a little too wide.
“Oh! Nancy McDonnell!” she exclaims. “We had a judge Nancy McDonnell.”
This I know because a.) I’ve met her before. b.) I get many official invitations to political rallies and dinners addressed to her. c.) I get offers that people would like to work on my campaigns and d.) this is the one that frightens me sometimes; I get phone calls late at night from the police station wanting me to sign emergency warrants.
No one likes to wake at 2am by a phone call that the caller ID identifies as the police station.
I was arrested once (yeah , I know. Little ol' me…I’ll tell you all about it sometime) and had the jail in a tissy because word spread that Nancy McDonnell had been arrested and was presently incarcerated. The police were very nice, I don’t think they knew whether I was the Nancy McDonnell or another…so they were on their best behavior just in case. They didn’t even put me in a cell, they let me sit at the desk until someone came to pick me up. Even brought me coffee. I guess it helps sometimes to share a name.
I smile and say, “Yes, I know. I’ve met her. But I’m not her, trust me.”
By the time I’ve been escorted to the chambers where the jury is housed before going to the courtroom I’ve gone through this schpiel several times. Finding a chair I look around. My fellow potential jurors obviously didn’t think the same thing I did about respecting the court.
Yes, there are a few that are dressed obviously for work hoping to get out of here soon. A young man with a tie; an older gentleman with trousers and tennis shoes; the lady in the suit that is busy pecking away on her Blackberry even though there is a large sign that says ‘No Cell phones’. That obviously must not apply to her.
There’s a young girl in skinny jeans, pink streeked hair and Converse high tops that looks like she works at Starbucks (which ironically during questioning later we find that she does work at Starbucks); an overweight younger man in his mid 30's with a huge black t-shirt emblazoned with Led Zeppelin over long hip-hop shorts. He looks like he still lives at home and is missing out on serious PS3 zombie killing time. His hair is longer but has that ubiquitous balding spot. He never meets anyone’s eyes. He hangs his head, fiddles with his hands and just looks angry and miserable; and a gal missing many teeth that is shoveling the donut holes the court provided into her mouth at an alarming rate. She informs us that she never is up this early. (9:15) Wow. Really? That’s so unbelievable…ha.
It’s an interesting crowd to say the least. Thirty random people in Lakewood all gathered here for their chance to serve their civic duty to their city. A few know each other and are talking about their kids soccer games or PTA meetings. Lakewood is a small town. But I don’t recognize any of these people. There is one gal that I think works at the party store, or is it the grocery? I’m not sure. I’ve seen her face but don’t know who she is.
As we are waiting in this conference room I wonder what kind of case it will be? Not much happens here in Lakewood. If this venue had been in Cleveland proper, it could be anything. But in Lakewood? I’m sure they won’t turn this into a TV show.
The baliff appears at the door. He calls our names and line us up to walk single file into the courtroom. As juror 19, I’m in the second row. They call the first eight jurors up into the stand and start their questioning. Married? Employed? Where do you work? Ever been assaulted? Ever been the victim of a crime? How do you feel the police handled the situation? Do you know any of these other people sitting by you? Anyone in your family work in law enforcement?
Same questions, many times over. I'm starting to get bored. I stifle a yawn.
The benches in the courthouse are wood. Like old church pews. As I’m sitting there listening I come to the realization that I shouldn’t have had that third cup of coffee. Or I should have used the restroom when they said “If you need to use the bathroom you should do so now before we go into the courtroom” Ooops.
I’m glancing at the clock as the judge is thanking us for our being here. That we will be taking breaks. That they never know how long these things will last and that by us appearing here at court as prospective jurors, this is how the justice system continues to be fair and impartial by citizens such as ourselves.
Judging by the progress made thus far, I’m thinking, You can hold it, Nancy. I’m also thinking I should’ve worn those crepe soled shoes rather than the leather ones, these click on the tile and I can’t sneak out if needed without drawing attention.
The defense lawyer is ill-prepared. He obviously doesn’t do this much. He keeps referring to his notes and his delivery then is ill-timed because he has to keep flipping through pages. His client keeps turning his head and rolling his eyes. Even the judge is looking at him impatiently. Blue pin striped suit, double vent, jacket a little too snug. He doesn‘t miss many meals this guy. Black hair done Guido style with a little too much hair goop. He’s one of those that hangs out after work downtown letting any stray female know he’s a lawyer. I can just picture it. Fact is, when out I purposely sidestep these characters.
His client is a middle aged man wearing perhaps his best clothes. Black leather jacket and khaki pants. Black tennis shoes. Slumped shoulders, wiry black hair, mustache. The charge is assault. At a car wash.
The City of Lakewood’s prosecutor starts with her questioning of the jurors on the stand. Until she introduced herself, I figured she was a stenographer. She’s poorly dressed. As I’m looking at her, I feel badly for her. Her hair is greasy…like two days past acceptable greasy. It’s shoulder length and hangs in the back like spaghetti. She’s wearing a floral skirt. White background with large hot pink hibiscus on it. Little clear palettes make it shimmer. It would be nice and appropriate for a summer wedding or cocktail party, but not in a courtroom. I can’t see what blouse she’s wearing from my seat but whatever it is, it’s covered up by a ridiculous oversized hot pink jean jacket. Ill fitting, but a hot pink jean jacket? Ina courtroom? I’m amazed that she hasn’t been given a dress code warning by the court. She’s even wearing sandals. And do I need to mention the white at this time of year? She's got so many Glamour don'ts added up, we need not add more.
To me? By her dress alone, she doesn’t carry any importance or authority.
This is fun, watching this court of law unfold. It’s some good people watching also. Except that my stomach is now making these sounds that alerts me I soon need to use the restroom. Luckily enough, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney are satisfied with the original eight people addressed. They pull one more and send her through the same question field and they are happy with her for an alternate.
The rest of us sitting in the courtroom are thanked for our time and dismissed. I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t even get called to be questioned, but happy in a way that I didn’t get called to the stand. I had to put a lot of things in place just in case I did have to spend the entire day here. So I’m ecstatic that on such a beautiful day I can do something other than watch these two unprepared, poorly dressed lawyers present their case.
I’m sure those called will be riveted by their performance.
I might not have been able to keep myself at break from informing the prosecutor that she’s dressed inappropriately. Maybe I’d have given her my business card. I could definitely help her with her professional wardrobe. The least I could do is to send her to my hairdresser to fix that mess.
CSI this was not. Or at least I’d assume it wasn’t even close.
I don’t watch that show either.
But now I’ve done my civic duty. I wonder if I’ll ever get called again. Probably not. But if I do, I’m not drinking coffee that day.
But I may wear jeans.