Monday, February 18, 2008

Lessons in Sober, Upright Citizenship: How I Got Out of Jury Duty

     So it seems that while the Palm Beach County Board of Elections can't figure out where I live, no matter how many times I tell them (see my previous post, FUBAR Democracy, for details), the 15th Judicial Circuit Court of the Great State of Florida had no problem whatsoever finding me, despite the effort I've gone to over the years to avoid appearing in any courtroom for any reason, be it voluntarily or no. At any rate, I was informed by the interior of my summons of the following helpful facts:

  • My name was selected at random from the list of people qualified to serve.
  • My jury duty will begin February 12, 2008 at 8:00 a.m. and continue until I am released from service.
  • I will not be released from jury duty until
    1. I have served as a juror on a trial;
    2. I have appeared for service and was not selected as a juror; or
    3. I have been notified by the automatic phone system that my service is not needed.
Now, my luck being what it is there's no way in hell I could hope for dismissal without having to actually show up, so I began to plan for door number two. I spent a good deal of time researching the rights and responsibilities of a juror, and I had worked out a pretty good plan whereby I was reasonably confident I could get the judge to dismiss me. I also bought a book, mainly for something to read while I was wasting my time sitting idle at the courthouse waiting for the rusted, creaking wheels of bureaucracy to turn. In the end, it wasn't my brilliant planning and/or scheming which did the deed, but rather it was my choice of reading material which proved to be a far more brilliant choice and, fortunately for you, dear reader, made for a much better story.

     Almost nobody wants to sit on a jury. It's stupefyingly boring. You miss work, which causes you to either eat up valuable vacation days if you have them or just not get paid if you don't. And if you're lucky enough to end up being sequestered, you'll be spending a great deal of quality time in a shitty motel eating crappy food and wondering how long it will take before you can hang the sonofabitch (or bitch) responsible. This being the case, the popular cliché is that while we have the duty to serve when called, we also have the sovereign duty to do whatever it takes to get the hell out of said duty. Some people simply ignore the summons, which is just childish. Others will appear and proceede to act either as idiots or bigots, which is weaselly behavior at best. A friend of mine is fond of the following phrase: "Yeah, you bring that guilty sum'bitch on in here an' I'll give 'im a fair trial." Crude, but effective. Me, I developed a meticulously researched, painstakingly developed, hand-crafted all-natural reasoned argument based on actual legal precedents which I was quite certain would piss off the judge . . . and I'm not going to tell you what it was. Do your own damn research. At any rate, despite my confidence I don't know if it would've actually worked and, as I said, it was the book which did the trick. So, without further ado, here's how it went down . . .

     As directed, I called the automated telephone system after 5:00 p.m. the night before my service was scheduled to begin. I knew I was going to have to go in, long before I ever picked up the phone and dialed the number. How did I know, you ask? Simple: I have bad luck. Always have, always will. Case in point: follow me back to Christmas, 1986. I was two, maybe three weeks shy of my tenth birthday and it was time for the Secret Santa Party at school (this being in the days when you could still celebrate Christmas in public without being looked upon as some sort of evil bigot). Everybody got decent presents that year . . . everybody, that is, except me. One kid managed to get a helicopter which was almost as big as he was and fired missiles and had rotors that spun and everything; this obviously violated the ten-dollar spending limit, but it was totally cool. I got a bottle of cologne. Cologne. What the **** is a ten-year-old supposed to do with a bottle of cologne? Pour it on the helicopter and set it on fire? I would've liked to, that's for damn sure. However, I suppose it's fortunate that I had no readily available ignition source. Anyway, back to the present: that's the kind of luck I have, and that's how I knew I was going to be called in. So I dialed the number and gee-golly, I was ordered to report to the courthouse first thing in the morning. Tuesday morning find me at the courthouse bright and early. I park where I'm told to park. I go to the room I'm told to go to. I sign the forms I'm told to sign. Then I'm told to hurry up and wait: the judge isn't here yet. This is approximately 8:15. At 9:00 the judge "will be here shortly." 9:30; the judge "will be here shortly." 10:00; the judge "has been delayed, but will be here shortly." 10:30; the judge "is still delayed, but will be here shortly." 11:00; the judge "will be here shortly." 11:30; the judge "will not be able to make it in today, please go to lunch and return by 1:00." "In the bureaucratic world, 'shortly' means 'whenever the hell they feel like it'," I tell the woman sitting next to me as we head for the cafeteria. Now, if I had called in and told them I'd "be in shortly" I'm quite certain I would've been fined the prescribed $100, found to be in contempt of court (which, after the morning's bullshit would've been quite accurate), and been "escorted" to the courthouse by two armed representatives of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. But the guy who has the power to do all that to me can be "delayed" all day and, apparently, they can't find anyone to fill in for him. I would've done it if they'd just asked. How hard can it be to pick a dozen people to sit on a jury, anyway? (Shut-up, Anne.)

     So I went to the cafeteria and pretended to enjoy a craptacular lunch. Following that I re-reported to the Juror Aging Facility to wait for my next assignment which, surprise, surprise, surprise! was to hurry up and wait. Again. The offending party this time? The attorney for the defense. Do they know where he is? No. Do they know when he'll be in? Shortly. Now, I know what you're thinking. Bottle of cologne, lighter, and that sprinkler head . . . Good idea; that would certainly do to liven things up, but I'm trying to get out of jury duty and I'd prefer not to get in to a situation where I'd need one. Seriously, you should've seen some of these people. Not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, some of them. Anyway, the defense lawyer finally shows up two hours later. The bailiff shuffles us into the courtroom and sits us down in the jury box. The prosecutor's already there, pretending to be busy reading important legal papers or whatever. Two additional bailiffs escort the accused into the room and sit him down next to his lawyer, who is also busy pretending to be busy. Still no judge. I've been in a damn courthouse for nearly six hours and have yet to see somebody in a black muumuu, and I wouldn't for another fifteen minutes. When the judge finally arrived and announced his intention to "[G]et this show on the road" I snapped my book shut and enjoyed the solid thwap it made, the kind of sound and satisfaction you can only get from a hard-bound book (Death to Paperbacks!). Hearing the noise, everyone of course turned to see what had made it, including the judge. As I was seated in the chair closest to him he could easily see the "artwork" on the dust jacket, and I'm quite certain it took him by surprise because before anyone had said anything actually pertaining to the trial, he points to me and says "Lemmie see that." In that instant I had a pretty good idea what was about to happen so, stifling a smile I handed the book over to the bailiff who delivered it to his eminence. The judge spent a long moment giving the dust jacket and its inside flaps some sober contemplation. He even flipped through the pages and read through the chapter listing (I'm assuming that's what he read). He then closed the book and held it up for both lawyers to see. When they saw the cover both their jaws hit the floor and all four eyes bulged out of their sockets. The judge simply nodded, handed my book back to the bailiff, turned to me and said those three wonderful words I was dying to hear: "Sir, you're dismissed."

     Now, I have no idea what the trial was about. I never heard what he was alleged to have done. I never found out what my responsibilities as a juror in that particular case would've been. All I know I was told in no uncertain terms to go home and, for the first time that day, I was happy to follow their orders. I'm also pretty certain that both attorneys and maybe the judge thought I was a Nazi. Or just a plain ol' fascist. Or perhaps just some crazy redneck who'd fallen off the turnip truck and rolled into the courthouse. Why would they think such a horrible thing, you ask, based simply on the cover of a book? Take a look:







I couldn't have possibly planned it better myself. :oD