Column: Never, ever, ever, ever go to trial – ever

(Photo by Clownfish/Flickr)

If you stand trial in Los Angeles, this is the jury of your peers.

The court asked that we arrive by 7:30 am. At 7 am less than a dozen people waited outside of the jury room. I was one of them. When the jury room opened at 7:30, about 25 of the 100-plus people called to serve were present.

The woman who was in charge of instructing potential jurors began speaking at 7:45 am. People repeatedly walked up to her and interrupted her. I would have been annoyed if I was her, but she handled it with grace. It must happen every day. By 8 am most of the jurors had arrived, although some came as late at 9 am.

A judge addressed the potential jurors. He called jury duty the “necessary sacrifice” that makes the American judicial system special. I agree. Trial by a jury of your peers is a better means of administering justice than trial by a Blagojevich. We really do have the best system in the world. I applauded politely at the end of the judge’s speech.

The first group was called. I was not in it.

At 9:50 am we were given a 15-minute break. This is the part of the jury experience when my brain started to explode. Next to the jury room was a snack shop. Your peers, my peers and some poor bastard’s peers rushed in at 9:50 am to buy hot dogs, slices of pizza, soft pretzels and popcorn. Did I mention that it was 9:50 am? Did I mention that we were not at the Ohio State Fair?

(Behold, the proper venue for eating hot dogs, slices of pizza, soft pretzels and popcorn at 9:50 am. Also, check out the guy in the dark red shirt. Awesome. Photo by Golampo/Flickr.)

Inside the snack shop was a refrigerator filled with soft drinks. It had a sliding-glass door. I watched a potential juror spend a good five seconds trying to pull the door open as if it swung on hinges. It took multiple attempts before he realized it slid. In the eyes of the law, this man is my peer, this man whose thirst is encumbered by the challenging nature of doors.

Door Guy, as he became known in my head, arrived after 8. Following roll call he asked our leader if he could leave. He thought that because his name had been read that he had fulfilled his duty. The leader explained that he could not leave yet. This confused Door Guy, who mistook saying the word “here” with actually performing jury service. Later I had the urge to follow Door Guy into the bathroom, just to see what unfolded between him and the stall door – a potentially epic struggle. I resisted.

After the break I took a lap around the jury room, which contained a row of computers that allowed jurors to go online. I looked over one man’s shoulder. He was reading an e-mail. When I say reading, I mean he was reading the hell out of it, full concentration, with lips moving. It was the way you imagine Nixon read The Pentagon Papers the morning they were published in The New York Times. My man in the jury room was reading spam. The title of the spam product, and it was impossible to miss because it was in 72-point font size, was “Mind Powers.”

I hope he found some.

(It is entirely possible that Nixon did not read The Pentagon Papers in The New York Times. It is entirely possible that he said, “Fetch me a smart Jew, Henry, instruct him to read the damn thing, and have him give me the gist.” Photo by Cliff1066/Flickr.)

At 11 am my name was called and I was sent to another courthouse. Around 1 PM I entered a second jury room. A woman in her 50s sat down next to me. She told me how she almost went to trial herself. She was a landlord who was sued by a tenant. She did not settle. She won. She repeated all of these facts over and over for at least 15 minutes, growing angrier as she did so.

She was killing me. I wanted to get back to reading David Simon’s Homicide, which is excellent, and this woman, this peer of mine, did not recognize any of my “this conversation is over” verbal and physical cues. I could have held my book up, pointed at its title, pointed at her and made the throat-slitting gesture and she would have jabbered on. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. My hand to God, she looked at me like I was being rude.

If you stand trial in Los Angeles, or any other big city in America, these are your peers.

Good luck with that.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles
  • I was recently summoned to serve jury duty — in Austin, TX. Over 2 years after I moved from Austin to LA, they somehow mailed it to my SECOND LA address, apparently thinking that I lived in Texas and could serve in their court.

    So the jurors are not the only idiots in the system….


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