Jury Duty

25 11 2008

I haven’t blogged for a while; to be honest, the creative well has been dry—I’ve let the business of school and work block out anything I might want to say, and I haven’t quite figured out what I do want to say. However, as I was sitting in the jury assembly room yesterday, waiting to be called for jury duty, I started thinking about Joan Didion. I asked myself, “What would JD do if she were here?” What notes would be prompted, even if they related not a bit to her current project. Thus, some ruminations about life not related to my project. I hope that by getting some of these sauerkraut recipes out, I can refocus a bit on the project.

            First, I believe in our jury system—with all its faults. It’s still as good as anywhere else. Why, then, do so many of us want to get off? When I finally got into the court room and the judge asked is any of us had hardships that might prevent them form serving on a six-week case, at least of us voiced our reasons. Some of us were students with impending finals, others had jobs that didn’t pay for jury duty, a few had surgery, etc. I, along with the other students, was allowed to postpone until the end of the year, but I felt sorry for the defendant that none of his peers wanted to be there. I know I would want willing people on my jury!

            I loved one woman’s expression of “hardship”: she had out-of-town quests coming for the holidays, and she had to pick them up at the airport. I admire her gall at claiming this as a hardship that deserved getting off of jury duty—Didion would certainly make a character out of her. And the man who was going into surgery to have a 10mm kidney stone removed, yet he wasn’t feeling any pain! The sign language professor who needed to critique her students’ final performances. All of these folks would be great on a jury together!

            Joan Didion would also find some perverse interest in the ways people dressed. Shorts and tank tops were not allowed, but almost everything else was. There were nicely dressed people, but most wore t-shirts and jeans, some not too clean looking. Many had phone pieces in their ears or hands, and a lot of us had brought our laptops. I remember when we dressed up in suits for jury duty—those days are long gone, I guess. They belong to the days when the video they showed us was made, a film in which jurors like ourselves extolled the virtues of our system. It passed the time, but looked ancient. Many of us had reading material, but did we really get much done? One girl at least had her boyfriend with her—I never thought of bringing my own company to the jury room! An older lady sat at the public computer and played solitaire—my tax dollars at work. I’m sure Didion would find something to say about each of these things.

            I liked the judge—he was a character in his own right. He was funny and had his shtick down pretty well. He even had a judge puppet on his desk (I’d love to have been there when he used it!). He pressed people about their hardships, but good-naturedly. He seemed to have heard al of the excuses before and knew what questions to ask. He would be the comic relief in Joan’s story.

            I did notice the amount of technology in the court room—all kinds of projectors and viewing screens for presenting evidence. There’s a thesis topic if anyone needs one—the uses technology in delivering evidence in a trial. I wonder if it changed the way we “view” a crime. I remember when I sat on a jury several years ago, and a video of the defendant was crucial in showing he did not have the disability he claimed. Even without sound, and poorly produced, the video was as persuasive as the man when he sat just a few feet from us. His condition in court was very different than that on film, and we finally did not award him the damages he sought. This also raised the question of who is watching, and when, and what video did we not see that might have proven his case?

            This gets me back to our readings—technology both removes us and brings us in, gives us memories and erases them. How will this affect justice in the future? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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