Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jury Duty! For Justice! (Part 1)

It's a simple formula:

(Scheduled medical procedure) + (Getting paid by the hour) + (Upcoming vacation time) = A jury duty summons

No one looks forward to jury duty. I had a pile of work waiting for me, plus my neck ultrasound. I heard dozens of anecdotes about how people walk in and mostly waste a day sitting around, and that's it. Judging by how my luck had been running lately, I knew that's exactly what would happen.

No, that was sarcasm. I was doomed. And to make sure I was doomed...

I made them laugh during jury selection.

Brilliant move on my part. I'll say something that will make me memorable, but not in a negative way, and have them forget anything else about me that might make me not the best choice. I might as well have gotten in the box and started taking notes.

Lawyer: Mr. Walters, in your time as a writer, do you have any experience working in any aspect of traffic safety?
Me: Not personally, but my father used to work for a company that made traffic signals.
Lawyer: Was he in planning or manufacturing? Or did he do something else?
Me: He was an executive, so I don't think he really did anything.
Everyone in the courtroom, including the judge and court reporter: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Lawyer: Thank you, Mr. Walters. (Translation: now we just need 11 more)
Lady next to me: (whispering) They'll remember you for a long time.

Sure enough, I got a seat in the box. During our first break, one of the other jurors said "you know, I'm an executive." Of course. The judge's wife is probably a V.P. for QuikTrip or something. I did notice that neither the plaintiff nor defendant even smiled, for reasons that became starkly obvious later.

Others tried different techniques with more success. These people did not get on the jury:
  • I have a blood pressure issue, and forgot my meds. In fact, I'm feeling dizzy. Can I go outside for a minute?
  • Will we get out by 2:30? I have to pick my son up from school, and my husband is out of town.
  • My first impression is for the plaintiff.
No one laughed at any of those people, so I have that going for me.

Swearing In

I was curious about this part. Would I have to either swear to God, or make a stink to simply affirm that I'll do my juror thing as best I can. But the " help me God" part is apparently reserved for witnesses. And there's not even a Bible.

Don't Talk About Jury Club

Before the Opening Arguments, we have to hear instructions from the judge. We are not allowed to:
  • Talk about the trial to anyone, even each other, until after we render a verdict
  • Allow our cell phones to ring
  • Consort with anyone from either the defense or plaintiff's team
  • Accept bribes
  • Fail to alternate our merges
  • Fart, then giggle
  • Have sex with either legal team without signing a waiver
An outrage. Someone farts in court and you can't react? But it makes sense -- the last thing we need is to give anyone reason for a mis-trial. So we sigh, turn off our phones, and pass the envelopes full of money back to the lawyers.

The Trial Begins: Opening Arguments

These are intriguing. You hear two people telling the same story from different perspectives, and you feel that both stories are close to the truth. Our job is to figure out who was the screwup, not who is the liar. Also, at this point, we are just hearing the first details about the case, so the lawyers have this chance to sort of lube us up to swallow the steady diet of minutiae we'll be fed for the next few days.

The Incident: On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2005, at about 9pm, the plaintiff was crossing a road in Norcross (an Atlanta suburb) called Beaver Ruin Road. (No, I don't know why it's named that. I should look it up, because all my theories end up either gory or perverted.) Beaver Ruin is a major road -- five lanes and a concrete median. It was also damp, overcast, and off-and-on drizzle.

The plaintiff was walking with her two sons, aged one and three. She was carrying the younger one against her right shoulder, and holding hands with the older one with her left hand. She was about 2 feet from reaching the far curb when the three of them were hit by the car driven by the defendant at an estimated 40mph.

All three of them were knocked clear. The plantiff broke some bones, the one-year-old fractured his skull and sat in the hospital for a few weeks. And the three-year-old was killed instantly.

A very sad case, of course. This is really the first of the three lawsuits filed, one per victim. This one was on behalf of the dead boy.

Once all that came to light, the ressponsibility side of all this kicked in for me. Two lives completely overturned because a child was killed, and we had to pick whose fault it was.

(to be continued)

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