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Excerpts From Jury Duty, 1999
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Excerpts From Jury Duty, 1999
[1,473 words]
Olef Ransom Saulles
[November 2004]
[email protected]
Americas Burning, Excerpt. (Poetry) From a longer, unfinished poem. [239 words]
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Excerpts From Jury Duty, 1999
Olef Ransom Saulles

Without hyperbole, the nightmare begins early. I did not think I would write until I arrived, but lo, the 181st street station is closed and I need to run in order to catch a shuttle to the 168th street station. The ride is fast, but no less annoying.
Next stop - the line for tokens.
I could have transferred to an express train, but I forgot to pay attention; now I'm running late, late for duty. A second chance to transfer is lost. Damn train could have waited an extra 10 seconds with its doors open at 72nd - until the express train rolled to a stop. If you ask them why they don't, they'll respond concerning an obligation to a timed schedule. Have you ever seen a timed schedule for the 1/9?
It is rare to see a solitaire train; they are usually clumped in groups with long waits between packs.
Bold message to our generation:
This sucks, though I feel like a good citizen obeying these requests. After all they are for our own good.
The token booth at Chambers St. There is a sign, 'CENTER STREET 4 BLOCKS' with an arrow, so I exit the stairs and head in the direction of the arrow - wrong way. I pull out the map they provided me and check, West Broadway . . . uhh, Broadway: the map only vaguely looks like the area I'm at and no one mentioned a 15 minute walk, 20 in this cold.
I am not late. I have not broken from our tradition that all things necessary and worthwhile begin promptly at 9:00am.
The waiting room is actually pleasing - high ceilings, real wood, I assume, inlaid walls with painted murals depicting NYC sites by artist including Attilio Pusterla, John Edwin Jackson and Winthrop Turney, a real urban bureaucrat ideal. The citizen is pleased to be in the arms and grandeur of the state fulfilling his role. The scenes rendered to the potential jurist are city hall and the public library, Columbia's Low Memorial Library, and a battery of municipal buildings. Long, wooden benches with soft cushions for the tushy and back are strewn about in an orderly way. Behind the counter suffering through no declared fate are a black and a Jew. The dialectic aside, they want volunteers for a mock trial held by the BAR association. People chaotically scramble to volunteer. They are only accepting six. I'll take my chances here, with real duty, and maybe be dismissed. They are having fun behind the counter; "And the winners are . . ." Six names are called out. Good luck to them. They have to return tomorrow only to be bussed to another building, but they do get $50. Lucky suckers, we get $40.
Split your summons along perforations, hand in bottom portion, pick up three papers, including a questionnaire - try to remain orderly.
"Last names beginning A-G come up now." Fifteen or so people pile forward to the front of the room, real patriots. It goes on in this manner for a short time.
We are now shown a film about Jury Duty. It begins with an ancient torture-type of justice; people thrown into the water bound with stone weights on their legs � the innocent sink and the guilty floated. The actor screams and then sinks.
"Was this fair and impartial justice?" we are asked.
"We Americans . . . no dictators . . . guaranteed to each of us a trial by jury of our peers . . . uphold and protect . . . today it is your turn." Bill Bradley was the narrator of the film, next segment we heard testimonials on concerns of being a jurist.
"Sacrifice days of your life . . . Aristotle wrote too. . .in front of a tribunal of peers. The Romans threw that out. . .in medieval France, the JURORS . . . in England this evolved into . . . trial by jury . . . NO AUTHORITY MAY PUNISH A JURY FOR ITS DECISION (via William Penn). . . spirit of democracy expanded throughout the colonies. . . 5th, 6th, 7th amendments . . . 1860, first African American on jury. . . women were later. . . today everyone is eligible."
Now movie clips of court scenes, 'dramatic license' appropriated and a new narrator, Diane Sawyer; enchanting.
"What really happens. . . criminal. . . prosecution. . . civil trial. . . criminal trial. . . standards of proof, etc. . ."
Court Performer.
Court Officer.
Disputing Parties.
The guy in front of me brought his girlfriend along. That's devotion on her part. He doesn't seem the type to reciprocate such a commitment, even now he feigns interest in her. Perhaps she has duty also, some coincidence that would be.
Receptive to arguments?
"Indispensable role in our justice system."
We are not, we are told, just sitting around.
A gruesome word.
"I do."
So help you God.
"You'll find it fascinating. . . come away with a much better view of our legal system. . guaranteeing the same rights for ourselves, 'Our Family'. . . Justice for All" -
Chief Judge of the State of New York, Judith ?.
More testimonials:
"You are extremely valuable to the system and the system is valuable to you too.", uh, "to be able to come and serve. . .", uh, "I believe we have the best system there is. . ."
Testimonial bullcrap. Who are these people, or should I say 'patriots' in the arcane Modern sense, that they still feel this way?
This building opened in 1927.
The murals were painted during the depression by Government subsidized artists.
If you have been convicted of a felony you need not be a juror. Hmm.
There is an American Flag in the corner of this room - dusty and obscured by a television monitor.
People are still arriving.
To leave this room you must sign out and sign in with the correct times of your exiting and returning.
This sucks, ad infinum.
A criminal trial has12 jurors.
Needs an unanimous decision.
Has presumption of innocence.
Civil case does not presume such a status.
Needs 6 jurors, 5 must agree.
An anonymous judge is giving a speech, ". . .unique and wonderful experience. . ."
There are more than 200 people in this room and not one is smiling.
We are separated into groups, sent to different rooms, given a speech by another judge and now the lawyers will question us. Jury selection. We will have a decision by the end of the day. We were told by the judge that the trial may take up to 15 days. I wish I had a laptop, there is a jack in this room.
I want to be rich.
I want to be above the law.
I do not want to be a peer.
I sign out to urinate.
The lawyers seem to fit roles. The plaintiff's man being warmer, more personable as would someone representing a sickly child and trying to appeal to our emotions, not with the goal of corrupting our judgement, but you know he'll take what he can get. The defendant's lawyer seems more the stoic professional, like one representing a doctor and hospital should. He grimaces everytime the plaintiff's attorney mentions the impending case's defense. Their interaction is interesting, professional with forced cordiality and by no means friendly. It seems, at least to me, the jurors are corrupted initially through the cult of any given lawyer�s personality. Observing the questioning, I feel the defense lawyer to be the better judge of character, but I could be wrong.
Lunch is 1:00 - 2:00, followed by questioning from the other lawyer. Another recess follows. We are called back into the room for placement - whew, not a juror in this one. That could have been a potentially greater nightmare.
We can go home, but I must return tomorrow and try again to become a juror. I'm stranded far downtown and waiting for my ride. I guess I'll shop.
Day 2
We begin later at 9:30am instead of 8:30am, we needn't watch the film twice. The bus ride today is slower, the train ride is slower, the whole day moves more slowly, no newness to keep my curiosity or imagination tweaked. This must be what working life is like. This duty still sucks but I think I am more acclimated to the process today than yesterday. Acclimation. Is that the same as apathy, as roteness? Jury selection again. . . dismissed again. I don't have to do this for another four years. People who are called on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday have to serve three days. Those called on Thursday only have to serve for two. The lawyers seem to choose those who hardly speak up or question them. Now for the long train ride home.


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© 1999 Olef Ransom Saulles
May 2001

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