If You Want Me to Be a Good Citizen, Serve Coffee

June 12th, 2010

I feel really strongly that people should perform their civic duty responsibly and respectfully.  In other words, if you get summoned for jury duty, you should serve.

I, on the other hand, should get off.

I don’t mean that.  Well, yeah, I mean it.  I just don’t want to be quoted saying it.

Here’s the thing: they didn’t have coffee in the juror room.  None.  Not even a drop.  Not even a pocket coffee (a wonderful little confection I discovered in Italy: sweetened espresso encased in dark chocolate, oral happiness and get your mind out of the gutter, folks).  Nada.  We had to report at 8 am, so I barely had time to down half a cup before racing out of the house.   I usually drink coffee all morning long, so there I was, stuck in a room all morning–and another one all afternoon–with NO COFFEE.  There was a coffee vending machine downstairs but it was broken.  (So, apparently, were all the other vending machines: a fellow juror insisted it was the city’s way of making some money on the side because she and another woman had collectively lost three bucks in various vending machines without a snack or drink to show for it.)

No coffee.  No wonder my only thought the entire time was, “How do I get out of this godforsaken hellhole?”

It wasn’t just because of the coffee, of course.  There were also the four kids at home on summer break, who were basically watching TV all day, because I wasn’t there to insist they do something more physical or more cerebral.  And I had scheduled tons of doctor/orthodontist/dentist/misc appointments for the weeks between the end of school and the beginning of the summer programs and I didn’t know how I was going to get them there if I was stuck in the courthouse.

Call me a bad citizen, but I really didn’t want to end up on a jury.

And to judge by most of my fellow jurors, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.  The whole atmosphere there felt a little like the famous short story, “The Lottery”–you wanted to be sorry for anyone who got picked but, really, you were just glad it was him and not you.

It was a stressful day and to make a long (and, to judge by my family’s reaction to every attempt of mine to tell it in detail, apparently boring) story short, I went from thinking I was escaping jury duty altogether to literally being JUROR NUMBER ONE for a couple of hours.  Juror Number One.  Terrifying.  When I got picked to replace the original Number One (who had broken down in tears under questioning), I immediately said I had a hardship, i.e. those four kids who were stuck at home on their summer vacation.  I did not mention the lack of coffee in the courthouse but I probably should have, because the judge was very very unhappy with me for bringing up the “kids out of school” argument.  He reamed me out in front of the entire courtroom.  Why hadn’t I asked for a postponement, why couldn’t I have arranged other care for the kids, didn’t I realize it was hard for everyone, even him (he apparently had been called to jury duty recently–bet HE got off), etc. etc.

To my amazement, I didn’t break down in tears which is my usual response when someone in authority yells at me publicly.  I just did my best to answer his questions and explain that I thought this WAS what I was supposed to do: explain the hardship to him if called up.  Plus I had cleared this week for jury duty, just not the NEXT week, which the trial was going to go into since it was already Thursday.  He remained disgusted with me and didn’t seem inclined to let me go.

Any mother out there will know how my mind was reeling as the lawyers continued to question the jurors (not me: it was a real estate case and I didn’t have any conflicts with that): who could I get to take the kids to the doctors appointments?  How would I get my teenager ready for his two-week sleepaway program that started the next weekend?  Was there any way to keep the kids from watching TV the entire time I would be in the courthouse?  How would I survive a whole week of caffeine-less mornings?

Hours went by.  The day was almost over and the jury was just about set.  And then . . .  ONE OF THE LAWYERS EXCUSED ME!

I have no idea why.  All I can figure out is that the judge said, “If you have any extra excuses, you might as well let the annoying Palisades housewife go,” and so this lawyer kindly did.

As I ran out of the courtroom, I had a brief flash of guilt.  Surely, like John McCain, I should insist on staying until my fellow prisoners were set free.

Then I remembered: this wasn’t ‘Nam.  This was Santa Monica.  And really, there was nothing particularly awful about being in the courthouse or on a jury.  It was all kind of interesting and if my kids were grown and out of the house, I’d have relaxed and might even gotten into it.

Except for the coffee thing.  That really sucked.

  • Claudia says:

    So is Juror #1 like Homecoming Queen? How do you get picked? The judge just decides? He had SUCH a crush on you Claire.

  • Katherine says:

    No coffee? How is anyone supposed to stay awake and focus on the trial?

  • Anonymous says:

    It was a total cute meet: he hated me THAT day but one day, he’s going to realize that the woman he loathes is the woman he loves.

  • Claire says:

    I’m not anonymous. Why does wordpress think I’m anonymous?

  • Claudia says:

    Occupied in observing His Honor’s attentions to her fellow jurors, Claire was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of the prosecuting attorney. He had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration as she whimpered for Starbucks coffee; and droned on about how difficult it is to try to get four children to doctors’ appointments. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of her fellow jurors, who accepted their plight with the mien of cows led to slaughter, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who dismissed her from jury duty.

  • Claire says:

    You just out-Austened Austen, Claudia.

    How typical heroine of me: all this time I thought it was about the judge when REALLY it was about the prosecuting attorney. What will bring me to my senses? When will I realize the truly generous spirit was his? How will we ever overcome the forces that are keeping us apart?

    Please finish the novel. I want to read it.

  • imdbman626 says:

    lol don’t forget that i am ALMOST grown and out of the house but brilliant article! Well written!

  • annie says:

    I think that lack of coffee should definitely count as bona fide “hardship.” Yeah, that, and four kids at home.

  • rachelhamm says:

    I had jury duty on June 2. For the first time. I actually WANTED to get picked for the jury, because I am a nerd. I did not get picked for the jury, though, because when asked if anyone had any training in criminal proceedings, I had to raise my hand and inform the defense that I have a BA in Criminal Justice. Yeah, he thanked me for my service and dismissed me. I got to leave around lunchtime, but told my boss that I had to stay til 4. So, while I didn’t get to serve on the jury (which I would have found incredibly interesting), I did get to miss a day of work.

    Our coffee vending machine was working, so I guess I had a better civic experience overall. I’m very sorry. But hey, at least next time you know what to do- tell them you have training in criminal proceedings!

  • Claire says:

    there were a couple of law students there–and they weren’t getting off! (At least while I was there–I guess one of the lawyers might have dismissed them).

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