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« Grand Jury, Part II | Main | My last few posts for Babble »
Thursday
Apr192012

Grand Jury, Part I 

This is my first jury duty stint and I was pretty anxious about it. This is unsurprising, as I am anxious about everything. I like to know exactly what I'm getting myself into. I want to get all the rules straight, I want to know what the protocol is. I don't want to wander around all confused or show up in the wrong room or I DON'T KNOW WHAT. I don't like not knowing where the ladies' room in a restaurant is. Where they are paid to be nice to you. What if I get lost and pee in the kitchen? Before I even leave my seat I demand a map or detailed reassurance from the waitstaff. (I am always their favorite.) So the idea of going somewhere where overworked, embittered city employees would be barking orders at me (I guessed) and maybe I'd do something wrong and they'd be all MA'AM. MA'AM, THAT DOOR IS FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY MA'AM. And everyone would stare at me, the Jerk who Doesn't Know How Doors Work, and then I would pee myself. (Apparently many of my anxiety-fueled fantasies involve pee.)

What has been unexpectedly delightful about jury duty is how 1) so many other people totally disregard any of the rules or standards of behavior, and how 2) utterly accustomed to this the staff is. I mean, the attorneys seem perky enough, but the court wardens all have this expression you can only get from listening to the same stupid-ass question you've answered a trillion times that day. They're done being annoyed. They all have these kindly exhausted faces that seem to imply that if you peed yourself in front of them (there I go again) they'd only sigh and gently remind you that peeing should only occur in designated pee-places and to please not pee again anywhere but in the designated pee-places. And then the juror next to you would pee herself, just for the hell of it. Just because she's annoyed that you got to do it and she didn't! Why should you get all the fun?

So although I'm exhausted, I'm enjoying myself. The hours may be long (I did not expect 10-11 hour days, I'll tell you what), the endless cases may be pretty damn depressing, but this is people watching at its finest. Where else can I get this? Usually my interaction with humans I am not related to or friends with is limited to school pickup and the occasional chit-chat at the gym, coffee shop, or with a fellow dog owner. Now I am wading in humanity! Awesome, terrible humanity!

Before I get started with this, because no one I talk to seems to know: "grand jury" does not mean "super-fantastic jury." In a grand jury, you hear many cases, and in each one you vote whether or not each case is going to go to a court. So you wait around until an assistant district attorney comes in and presents you with a case, you hear testimony, you vote, bam, next one. There's no judge in the room. Which, to the more vocal of my fellow jurors, seems to mean THE RULES DO NOT COUNT.

Also, unlike a regular old jury, no one is dismissed at the outset. NO ONE. There's no getting out because "this case is about a car theft and I'm married to a car" or "I don't trust the police and also I think my dog speaks human talk straight to my brain." Everyone's in. So imagine how many different brands of lunatics can show up in any given grand jury. Lucky for me, I've got them all! (At least the harmless kinds. I hope.)

I love my nutball fellow jurors, I really do. Sure, plenty of the others are thoughtful and brimming with mental health, but how can I write about them? I'd rather tell you about the kooks. Oh, my friends, I want to kiss them on their adorable mouths! From whence the crazy sounds come!

Anyway, as I was saying, I think a judge would put these goofs in their respective places, but that would be no fun, and neither the assistant district attorneys nor the court wardens seem especially keen on laying down the law (so to speak) when it comes to appropriate behavior.

For instance: cell phone conversations. During testimony. You would think that would be frowned upon, yes?

Oh, it is. AND YET! On the first day, a phone rings during testimony. It belongs to a juror behind me, an elderly lady who has spent most of our down time between cases snoring so hard I'm afraid she has apnea and might pass away. A witness is on the stand, and this juror's phone goes bonkers. Not only does it ring, it rings LOUDLY and with VERVE. She loves her Broadway showtune ringtone her grandnephew programmed on her phone, and damned if she's not going to enjoy it when it rings!


Listen, we've all forgotten to turn off our ringer at one time or another, right? (Actually I haven't. See above re: scared of getting yelled at.) So she pulls out her phone, at which point of course it's only louder, is in fact almost deafening in its Broadway show-tuniness. But does she turn it off? Does she?

Oh, no. She answers it. Yes. While everyone is staring at her. She answers it.

At this point I am practically hiding under my chair just thinking about how much anxiety I would have about committing such a sin. There is a sign outside the courtroom that commands us not to use our cell phones during testimony, and I am pretty sure this means cell-phone use means we will all be officially Shunned from polite society from now until the end of our days. 

Everyone is staring at her. The Assistant District Attorney is gobsmacked. On the other end, a man is shouting that he can't hear her. How do we know this? Because she has the phone ON SPEAKERPHONE.

"I can't talk right now," she says. "I'm on a jury. I'm in the court. Yes. Here. In the court. I can't talk. I'll call you later." She spends almost thirty seconds describing how poor a time it is to converse. "What? WHAT?" the man is bellowing. The poor ADA is trying to tell her to turn it off. The entire jury is shouting at her to turn it off. Except for me. I'm trying to claw through the floor of the jury box with my bare hands, to escape the shame.

Here's the truly glorious part of this: you would think she would have learned her lesson. BUT NO. Later that day, she did it again. AGAIN. The whole thing. Broadway showtune, speakerphone, guy yelling, her telling him she couldn't talk, everyone shouting, me floor-digging.

But wait! Here's the even more glorious part, the part where all the angels sang in unison. This part occurred on the second day. When, oh Lord in heaven, she did it again. She did it again twice. All the same elements. Broadway, speaker, guy, her, everyone shouting. The third time, she chatted while the ADA and two court wardens berated her. It was a spectacle that went from being mortifying by association to impressive. That third time, I managed to remain sitting upright. (Although I did hide my head in my hands, thus rendering me invisible.) By the fourth time, I was giggling into my court notebook. Would she do it again? I was beginning to get excited about it!

On the third day, some of the other jurors made her promise she would turn off her phone, and either she did or that guy (her grandnephew?) gave up trying to chat with her. I have to say, I was disappointed. Her rule-flouting was turning out to be better than therapy for me. I think I want Phone Lady to become my guru. She seems awfully happy. Although I can't say I care for her choice of ringtones.

Reader Comments (44)

I can't even tell you how happy I am that you're enjoying jury duty. I love it too. The people-watching is awesome. BTW, when cell phones were first coming out as something regular people had, not just drug dealers had, the courts in lower NY had a rule that you couldn't even bring them INTO the courthouse.

Enjoy the shit out of this, Alice. And thank your lucky stars you're not being sequestered.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreen

Bwa ha ha ha, this is awesome. DO keep us updated on your continued jury-duty adventures, Alice! I can't wait to hear more.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Hysterical!!!! I thought it was bad when one of my fellow jurors (not grand jury) without any warning jumped up in the middle of the case and made a beeline for the door. Apparently, he had to go to the bathroom REALLY bad. He didn't make it very far before the bailiff clotheslined him. (Not really, but that would've been funny!)

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

And you said it wasn't super-fantastic jury duty. I love your co-jurors for the great material they bring (or are).
Keep 'em coming!

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdgm

Oh, that was hilarious. [Wipes eyes.]

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Ah, yes...there is nothing better than time spent at the courthouse as an observer. Slight change when you're a participant, but the observing part is very entertaining.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentera

i'm amazed that in NYC you can bring a cell phone into the court house. here, in The Simple Midwest, at least in my county, you can't. you're screened, gamma-rayed and felt-up, with your shoes off. phone found? schlep-it back to your car, Ma'am.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlori

I'm just glad you didn't pee from embarrassment. And oh, how I love jury duty. I've never been selected as a juror, but every two years I fulfill my civic duty and sit through a day of people watching/people listening to/crazies running rampant amid the courthouse corridors. People moan about jury duty all the time, but for me it's so much more entertaining than reality TV. That shit is LIVE; you can't get that level of sweet, crazy goodness on Maury.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArnebya

This was so much fun to read. Thanks for sharing.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanS

I love this story! And this lady. I, too, would have had a coronary event just for being associated (involuntarily) with her.

Now please, please say you're doing sketches of your fellow jurors and smuggling them out to share.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I like to know exactly what I'm getting myself into. I want to get all the rules straight, I want to know what the protocol is. I don't want to wander around all confused or show up in the wrong room or I DON'T KNOW WHAT. I don't like not knowing where the ladies' room in a restaurant is.

OMG, THIS. This, this, this. I hate the wandering, the not knowing, the being confused, the LOOKING confused, oh god what if someone sees me looking lost and confused while I am wandering around looking for the unknown location of the restroom?! My husband thinks I'm insane. And, okay, he may have a point, but HE has a phone-call-making phobia, so pot/kettle etc. (Actually I have some phone-call-making phobia too, but his is worse. So there.)

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

That lady is your doppelganger opposite. Maybe she was sent from a parallel universe to teach you the joy (and importance) of breaking a rule here and there. p.s. I would have been horrified too.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhi kooky

Are we related? I swear we are. I get the sweats just thinking about trying to find a bathroom. Why do women go in groups/pairs? So that we can lead each other to the bathroom or else pretend we were going to admire some artwork together when we can't find it.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteramy

Totally cracking up here! Thanks for sharing this. I think the need to answer the cell phone thing is generational. Remember the days before answering machines or voicemail (or cell phones of course), when you had to answer the phone, because what if you missed an important call? I don't remember those days either, but apparently old people do. That woman you described in the courtroom, well, that's my Mom. Seriously. She always answers her cell phone, whether its inappropriate or not. I absolutely cringe sometimes when we're in a restaurant, or a MUSEUM for goodness sake, and she answers her phone instead of silencing it, and goes on to have long, very loud conversations ON HER SPEAKERPHONE so that everyone can hear everything, and doesn't say something like, "it's not a good time to talk, can I call you back?" I pretend I don't know her or hide behind a menu. So embarrasing.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjanet

Oh how delightful to read about such shenanigans!!
And I'm with the others who are shocked you can have a cell phone in there. When I showed up at the courthouse to have my divorce finalized, I had to park waaaaay far away. I got all the way to the building and saw the sign that said cameras were not allowed and the guard told me that included the one on my cell phone. I had to literally run all the way back to my car and back to stand in the long security line and make it into the room on time. And then our (shared) lawyer didn't show up on time anyway.
Do you think that lady got extra patience because she is old?

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

I have often noted that I get embarrassed for people who don't have the good sense to get embarrassed themselves. Hence my reluctance to watch most forms of reality TV. But anyway, I would have felt the same terrible shame for phone woman, and it would definitely have morphed into the glee you later experienced. I so get the whole thing.

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Alice... you are simply hillarious. "Grand jury does not mean super-fantastic jury"... damn I hope I get the opportunity to use that line some day.

thank you for making me laugh.

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

I'm German, and since we have a word for everything, here's one for feeling ashamed on behalf of someone else: »Fremdschämen«.

Which could loosely be translated as »strangershame«, but in exact translation really does say »to feel embarrassed on behalf of a stranger« (stranger meaning someone who is not you, even if it is someone you know).

English is a wonderful language to convey emotions, but the great thing with German is that you can be very, very precise.

The word »Fremdschämen« is a particular favourite of mine because it describes an emotion I feel very acutely – hence my inability to watch reality TV without cringing so much it gives me a hernia. Or would give me, if I were male. Had I been sitting with you in the jury seats, I could have arrived at spiritual transcendence merely by wishing to be invisible so very strongly, it would have warped the fabric of reality.

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJudith

This post made me so happy!

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteredj

I've worked in Brooklyn and Manhattan criminal court and the sheer wonder and horror of humanity there never ceases to amaze me.

And I'm loving the concept of strangershame... I have it so bad I have to change the channel when people on tv are embarrassed!

Also when I was in high school I was at the front of the line of people at graduation, and at practice graduation, I was supposed to lead a line of 300 people out of a doorway in the gym, and I spaced and tried to go through a different door which was a door to the closet where they keep the balls. Yeah. I'm awful with doors.

April 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarah

That made me cringe and laugh at the same time. I would have evaporated in a puff of shame if it was my phone. She has some backbone!

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGillian

Judith makes me wish I knew German!

Thanks for the laugh, Alice. :-)

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTabatha

She's one of those old ladies who wears purple and goes where angels fear to tread. I wanna be her. Though, my sense of propriety makes me turn off my phone when I'm supposed to.

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermagpie

Thanks for the laughs! :) - An

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAn Bui

I LOVE the elderly and their quirky use of technology. (Unless they are calling me for tech support I mean-talkin to you mom!)

April 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkaylen

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