I don’t know why but I seem to get called for jury duty more often than anyone I know. Neither of my daughters has ever been called and my wife phoned into the automated system the night before and was released.
So I made my first Florida appearance as a potential jurist the Monday after Easter. I had been summoned three times in the past six months but declined because we were out of town on two of the dates and the third fell during the holidays when we had visitors.
I wondered how many times I could decline before being hauled off but I finally accepted the summons. I had run out of excuses. Besides, it’s a civic duty.
They have you show up to the courthouse super early - 8am. I parked in the designated lot and saw another person who I keenly identified as a potential jurist. Parking in the designated lot with the jury notification in her hand gave me all the clues I needed.
While walking to the courthouse I asked her if she had ever served before and she had. After the metal screening process I caught up with her waiting in line. When she reached the check in person, they told her that her number didn’t have to come today. Evidently, she did not call the night before to see whether she was needed. Silly girl. I whispered “lucky you” as she left and I checked in.
I, too, had served once before, but it was a few years ago and in Los Angeles. We filled out a form and were shown the same dull videos explaining the American judicial system with roots in European law. After we were dutifully sworn in, we were told that to take “break” for forty five minutes until 9:15.
I was familiar with the drill from my former service and came armed with a magazine, a smart phone connected to their free wireless connection and a magazine. So I settled in for “the long wait”.
The crowd was mixed: one over achiever in a suit, a couple of slobs in shorts and flip flops, a couple of “man buns” and the usual overdressed court administrators. A few novelty tee shirts were worn including one of my favorites: the “Fly United” one showing two geese copulating in mid-air. Classy.
This was not much different from my observations in LA except that there was much less silicon and Botox here in Sarasota.
We reconvened a full hour after they said we would. The administrators had “randomly” selected a list of 35 people who were asked to identify themselves. The chosen few. I quickly did a scan of the room to estimate my odds of being selected: about one out of three. I remember this process and I agonized over this rollcall whenever a name with my first initial was announced.
Back in LA, I was picked for a jury the first morning of my service. The courtroom we entered looked like it was right out of a movie set: beautiful oak paneled walls, the judges’ bench well lit, the paunchy bailiff right out of central casting.
It was actually an interesting case of Grand Theft Auto, not the videogame, the crime. In this case the LAPD actually set up a “decoy” car with the keys in it and the engine running, the door ajar. There was a hidden video camera but no one was in the car. Down the street the police clandestinely watched from their squad car.
Sure enough, an unsuspecting passerby saw the empty car with the engine running, took a look inside and hopped in. The police soon gave pursuit but the perpetrator disappeared into notoriously congested LA traffic. To their utter surprise a few minutes later the alleged criminal returned the car and began walking away!! The flabbergasted police officers pounced. They had their man.
We jurists were told that this type of entrapment is perfectly legal in LA. In fact, there was a TV series featuring this type of sting operation. “Bait Car” ran for five seasons. Unfortunately, the perp probably wasn’t familiar with the show.
As luck would have it, I was selected foreman of the jury which was good. The combined sum of IQ’s for the other 11 jurists was well under 100. Jury of your peers? Wow.
It actually was an open and shut case with the accused caught in the act on videotape but pleaded not guilty. The only defense was a legal technicality about his intent which entered the grey area since he did return the car.
We needed a unanimous verdict and there were two holdouts to convicting him after several rounds of voting. I warned the group that it was getting late on Friday afternoon and if we didn’t want to have to return Monday morning, we would need to turn the two. At the next vote it was unanimous: guilty as charged.
Back in Sarasota on Monday, they were finishing up the call for selected jurors and my name wasn’t one of them. They ushered the chosen ones out of earshot well before announcing to us that we were released. I was out the door by 10:30, justice served once again.