A very, very close call at jury duty

I just finished serving a day-and-a-half of jury duty in Jersey City, and it was the longest day-and-a-half I’ve experienced in quite some time. The stress jury duty puts people through is worth far more than $5 per day, no matter what the state of New Jersey seems to think.

jury duty

jury duty

I left myself plenty of time to get there Monday. I wanted to arrive early so I could secure one of the cubicle-like seats, plug in my laptop and get some work done. It’s a good thing I left myself so much time because, as I found out later, I could not have taken a dumber route from the Journal Square PATH station to the courthouse. I knew the courthouse was on Newark Street, so I found Newark Street on a map and walked to it, then turned right toward the courthouse, which turned out to be about a nine-block walk. However, making the first right off Kennedy Boulevard, onto Pavonia Avenue, rather than walking all the way to Newark Street, would have shaved about six of those nine blocks off the total, so keep that in mind if you ever get stuck serving in Jersey City.

Despite my Vasco da Gama-style route, I arrived early enough to get a cubicle and immediately started working, which was a wise move when you consider my part-time status: If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. A couple of panels got called, but my name wasn’t among them, and I actually had a fairly productive day, including working through our lunch hour because I didn’t want to lose my seat.

Then bad luck reared its ugly head. My name was the last one called for what I later found out was the last panel called on Monday, so at approximately 2:30 p.m., productivity went down the toilet, as I was summoned to a courtroom where, obviously, computer use isn’t allowed.

The case was a civil case involving an automobile accident that took place in July 2005. It’s great to see that our justice system just hums right along, isn’t it? I barely remember last week, much less four years ago. The eight-person jury box was filled, questions were asked, some jurors were dismissed, and then we were allowed to leave early because the judge had another panel set to convene at 3 p.m., but we were told to report back to the same courtroom at 9 a.m. Tuesday (today).

If I may interrupt for a sidebar (legal term!), there are some downright ugly women in Hudson County. Men are always looking at women, no matter what our status is. Anyone that says they don’t is flat-out lying. If our eyesight and our imagination are toast, then our other vital parts are probably toast, as well. But you can throw out the Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate: Mrs. Howell would have been the sexiest one in this bunch. Having no eye candy around was a big disappointment. Eye candy definitely speeds the day.

And if I may interrupt for another sidebar, the only benefit of the long route I took to the courthouse was discovering a White Castle on Kennedy Boulevard. Once I was dismissed for the day, was there any doubt what lunch would be? I freaking love White Castle.

I returned to the courtroom Tuesday morning, taking a much shorter route thanks to the tip from my lovely fiancée. My experience in the courtroom Tuesday provides the clearest example possible about why jury duty is so stressful. I honestly couldn’t decide which way to “root.” Did I want the process to drag on in hopes that my name never got called, so that by the time a jury was selected, I’d hopefully be dismissed? Or did I want the process to end quickly so I could return to the relative calm (and Internet access) offered by the jury room? Were the events of the morning a good sign or a bad omen? The complete lack of control over my situation and the unpredictability were just draining.

The judge had a long list of questions that she planned to ask every potential juror, and the first batch of questions seemed like they would weed out the most people, so when we got through that first batch and several potential jurors had been replaced by people other than myself, I started to feel a little better about my odds of escaping a trial that we were told would likely last through Monday.

Then the bad omen arrived. A woman who appeared to be Indian was seated as juror No. 1, and I immediately knew in my heart that she would end up completely screwing me. The odds were still about 25-1, as there were 25 of us left in the audience, but I just got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Some people have no business whatsoever being in jury duty, and she was one of them. I’m not one of those people who demands that every person on the planet speak perfect English, but she obviously did not have nearly enough command of the language to get through a trial. The judge, who spoke clearly and slowly, had to repeat each question two or three times, and she was called up for sidebar conferences with the judge and the two attorneys on numerous occasions. Someone must have finally come to their senses and realized that having her on a jury would likely double the length of the trial, because she was excused. Out of the 25 people left, yours truly became the replacement juror. I knew it. Why, I don’t know, but I knew it. I was no longer a free man: I was juror No. 1.

I had two low cards that I was hoping would save me. One was the fact that Yom Kippur occurs on Monday, which was expected to be the last day of the trial. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m not the least bit religious, except when it comes to Yankee baseball, but with my last name being about as Jewish as last names can be, I thought I had a shot. However, since the judge strongly felt that the trial would end early Monday, I struck out on that count.

I’m pretty sure my second card was what saved me. As I said, the trial was about a car accident, and one of the questions asked whether any family members or close friends had recently been involved in an accident. Unfortunately, one of my friends was indeed involved in a very severe one a few weeks ago, which he was lucky to walk away from. The accident in the case took place on Tonnelle Avenue, and my friend’s accident also took place on 1/9, but further south, on the Pulaski Skyway. I was called up for a sidebar conference, described my friend’s accident, and returned to the jury box.

At this point, things weren’t looking up for our hero. I didn’t think there was any way to avoid serving on the trial, and I was resigned to completely wasting the rest of Tuesday, as well as Wednesday, Thursday and Monday (Friday is a day for motions, so juries aren’t involved). The only chance I had was being excused by one of the lawyers, but I didn’t think my answers to any of the questions raised any red flags.

We finally got to the point where all of the questions were answered, and it was up to the two attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorney excused one juror, so we all had to sit there while his replacement answered the entire line of questions from the judge. The defendant’s attorney then excused another juror, and the same drill happened with replacement No. 2, but this one took much longer, as he was called up for a couple of sidebar conferences. At this point, I was utterly and completely defeated and just wanted the trial to start already, as I saw no hope of not being part of it. However, I didn’t realize that the attorneys could remove more than one juror each.

Then, the magic words came out of the mouth of the plaintiff’s attorney: “Your honor, I would like to excuse juror No. 1.” Did I just hear that, or was I hallucinating? Relief washed over me as I gathered my belongings and returned to the jury room, where another pleasant surprise awaited: I was free to leave.

I have never been happier in my life to log onto my two work e-mail accounts and get busy. But the two hours and 15 minutes or so that I spent in that courtroom this morning were among the most stressful I’ve experienced in quite some time, and I have no desire to repeat the experience, even for another $10. Today’s experience was way too close for comfort.

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One comment on “A very, very close call at jury duty

  1. Deb says:

    A couple of things:

    1. Love the graphic!
    2. Used to love White Castle so I completely understand your love of it.
    3. You are one heck of a lucky person to have avoided jury duty. I served grand jury in the Bronx about seven years ago, and it was hellish at first. However, I met a number of good fellow jurors and the cases were very interesting– murders, fraud, theft, etc.

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