Chapter 11: What the hell is wrong with Juror #37?
Everyone loves getting that wonderful notice in the mail to fulfill our civic duties and participate in Jury Duty. I got mine and immediately tried to get out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the civil liberties granted to me and I want to help. But jury duty is boring. Sitting in those packed rooms waiting for your number to get called, to only gain an opportunity to sit in another room for endless hours. The only good news about the whole thing is that our waiting areas are wifi enabled. Scores of people are doing their work in the waiting areas, and that is what I planned to do.
After work failed to relieve me of my jury duty and my doctor laughed and hung up on me, I realized I was going to have to go to jury duty. I packed my largest purse tote of books, laptop, iPad and even a mobile hotspot in case the free wifi failed. I was ready.
I arrived at the location early and was escorted to the designated room. Upon entry, I realized I would be in a room filled with hundreds of equally excited potential jurors. This place was PACKED! The room was set up theater style with rows and rows of chairs. Jurors were all seated trying to occupy themselves by reading, playing on their phones and in some cases knitting. The back of the room contained a glass room filled with tables for those who wanted to work. I decided that would be my room for the next three days.
I don’t know if jury duty looks the same for all, but in my state, showing up for jury duty is mandatory and enforced by law unless you are excused. Each juror has to show up to jury duty and sit in these rooms for three days wearing an assigned (random) number. During those days, court officers will call a list of assigned numbers to potentially serve on a jury. Several groups of numbers are called throughout the day for three days. If your number isn’t called at the end of three days, you are excused. They send you a couple of dollars for your time and you don’t have to serve again for a number of years (that number varies depending on county / state guidelines).
People called as potential jurors are escorted to court rooms to participate in what’s called “voir dire” which is basically a chance for the attorneys in the case to interview you as a juror candidate. Once the attorneys select the jurors, those not selected are free to go. Those selected get to enjoy the comfort of a courtroom for days (sometimes weeks) as they participate in a trial and decide the outcome of a trial.
I moved to the back of the room and found a seat at the table. I set up my workstation, turned on my computer and connected to the free wifi. As soon as I was ready to work, I got called. Great. And I didn’t get called as the last of the group. Oh, no.. I was juror number THREE.
I will spare you the details of the monotony of voir dire and the fact that it took so long. I will say that as one of the more vocal participants on the subject of workplace discrimination, my fellow jurors were CONFIDENT I would be selected as a juror for the trial. The attorney for the plaintiff seemed to really like me as I may have been setting the tone in a positive manner for his case. I knew I had made an impression once the plaintiff’s attorney questions had concluded and the defense’s attorney arrived at the podium.
“You sure have a lot of opinions Juror #3.” the defense attorney sneered.
“Is there a question somewhere in there?” I sneered back.
I could hear giggles from our candidate pool as everyone was tired of being in there and understandably impatient with the defense attorney who seemed to have an attitude.
The judge stopped questioning after that and allowed us to break for lunch. We were told not to discuss what was presented in the courtroom. I bolted out the door. We were told we could use the vending machines or their cafeteria, but I had something different in mind. Leaving.
The judge gave us an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch. Plenty of time to jump in my car and find some place offering caffeine. I was dying for a ‘pick me up’. I ate lunch in my car and obtained said caffeine and headed back to the courtroom area. Some of my new candidate friends were waiting for me upon my return.
“Hey, where did you go? We were going to invite you to have lunch with us!” one of the juror candidates asked?
“Oh, I left for lunch”
“You left? You can’t do that, you won’t get free parking!” another candidate commented. The others nodded in agreement. We were given parking passes which had to be returned to the parking attendant upon exiting the garage.
“No one said you can’t get a new parking pass. I just went to the original desk and got another one.” I shrugged. A hush fell over the group. Before anyone could respond, the court officer called us all back into the room.
We entered the courtroom and went back to our assigned seats. When everyone was seated, I noticed the young man who was sitting next to me was missing. Mumbles began among the candidates. The court officer and judge were very clear about returning from lunch on time. The judge slammed the gavel on her desk to resume proceedings. One of the attorneys noticed the missing person and demanded everything stop. The court officer rushed to the attorney and then to me.
“Where is juror number 4?!?!” he demanded.
“I don’t know!” I said, shrugging my shoulders. I don’t even know the man, why would I know where he went??? The entire candidate pool began talking and pointing. The officer ran out of the door.
The first 12 juror candidates selected were seated in the section of court where the real jury would sit during trial (the jury box). We all became fast friends for the seven hours we were together. I was still surprised when I received a tap on the shoulder.
“We all decided that it is your fault Juror #4 is missing.” the man behind me said.
“What?! It was not my day to babysit.” I said turning around. “Is that the decision of everyone?” I asked. All 10 heads were nodding in approval.
Ain’t this a bitch? I can’t believe it.
I turned to the judge who was staring at me.
“Did you get any information?” the Judge asked.
“Your Honor, the jurors here in the jury box unanimously decided that it was my responsibility to make sure Juror #4 returned from lunch on time. May I go look for him?” I asked.
The entire room exploded with laughter. The Judge said “no” before she giggled and turned to get her glass of water. Just then, in comes Juror #4. The room applauded and cheered. I am shaking my head. He sat down quickly, probably embarrassed about what just happened.
“Everyone knows I am late, huh?” Juror #4 asked me quietly.
“Just sit down, you got me into trouble” I commented. This guy was probably out there on his phone while the Judge was interrogating me on his whereabouts. Like I know... Who do I look like??
With order resumed, Voir dire continued. I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes to four. We were told we would be done around 4pm so this defense attorney needs to wrap this up.
“We have only one last question for everyone” the defense attorney stated. “Does anyone have anything else they would like to add to ensure we have all necessary information for our decision?”
I looked around the room. There were about 60 of us in the room and they only needed 12 jurors and alternates. About four hands were raised to provide additional information.
An over-exaggerated sigh fell over the crowd as each of the four hands took their turn to explain why they would be unfairly burdened if selected as a juror. Some reasons were valid, one lady was the sole caregiver of her husband who needed to be driven to his chemotherapy appointments. Another had an at-risk pregnancy with appointments that couldn’t be missed nor rescheduled. And then came Juror #37.
Juror #37 was probably the quietest person in the entire courtroom. Standing at all of 4’11”, she was a plain looking lady with short brown hair, blue eyes and wearing a nice embroidered blouse and matching shorts. The Judge couldn’t even see her from the front of the courtroom. The court officer had to remind the Judge that she had one Juror left to hear before concluding for the day.
“Juror #37. You have something you would like to add?”
“Yes I do” she stated mildly. She paused as if to think about what she wanted to say and then said:
“BEFORE THIS TRIAL IS OVER, I WILL MAKE SURE SOMEONE GETS GUTTED!!!” Juror #37 yelled.
A hush came over the court immediately followed by a roar of whispers and confusion. The judge called for order. The entire room was in motion. The attorneys at the front of the room were in immediate conference. The court officer sprang from his seat headed towards Juror #37. The jury box I was in were all shifting in their seats and whispering wildly.
“Order!!” the Judge demanded, slamming her gavel on the desk.
“Juror #37,could you please join me in the front?” the Judge asked. Soon, Juror #37 was making her way to the front of the courtroom. The energy in the courtroom was extremely high and negative. Everyone was confused and angry at this turn of events. Some potential jurors even whispered to me concerned about the emotional state and possible actions of Juror #37. Who was getting “gutted”? Was it one of the jurors or maybe the attorneys? How serious was this threat? Was this her weak way of getting out of jury duty? No one knew the answer.
The judge spoke briefly to the juror and asked her to return to her seat. Then, the judge continued on with proceedings. She asked if either of the attorneys had any other questions or statements required to proceed. I am now terrified as are the rest of the jurors. We are all told not to bring weapons into the courthouse but who knows what Juror #37 has in the huge purse of hers. I am sitting in disbelief that we are going to continue as if nothing happened.
At the beginning of voir dire, the judge explained at any time during this procedure, you can raise your hand and speak to the judge privately about your concerns. This was important as some didn’t want to reveal personal health or other information that may impact their ability to serve as a juror. I raised my hand and asked for a sidebar.
“Yes?” the Judge asked.
“Sidebar your Honor?” I giggled internally after saying it. I watched too many Law & Order reruns not to find humor in my saying those words.
“Juror #3, please come forward.” the judge ordered.
A shocked crowd fell silent as I walked to the front of the courtroom. As soon as I reached the side of the judge’s desk, I found myself in the middle of a small team of lawyers from both sides, eager to hear my statements.
“Your Honor, I have great concerns for my safety.” I started.
The judge smiled but then quickly became serious. “Are you referring to Juror #37’s comments?”
“Yes. I have concerns. Was she serious? Who was she referring to when she mentioned ‘gutting’ someone? Was she referring to the jury?” I asked in rapid fire fashion.
The judge smiled again. I got the feeling she warmed to me since I prevented the entire session from being this painful experience where attorneys were begging people to answer their questions.
“I questioned the Juror extensively and I do not believe you or anyone in this room is in any danger” the judge began. “Are your feelings mirrored by others in this room?”
“Absolutely, look around. This is disturbing and I don’t think threats in our environment should be taken lightly. My humble opinion.”
The Judge looked around to a room filled with whispers and gestures toward Juror #37. She asked me to return to my seat.
“Juror #37 please stay seated in the courtroom. Everyone else, I am calling a quick 15 minute recess. Clear the courtroom.” the Judge ordered.
Everyone (but Juror #37) filed out of the courtroom into the hallway. Everyone seemed to be in shock. Disturbed by the interruption of what was a decent day, the entire group of 59 people assembled into groups all discussing the occurrence. Those in my group thanked me for going to the judge and shared my concerns.
“The Judge just went on with business as if nothing happened!” one person said.
“Did that Juror think this was a good way to get out of Jury duty?” another asked.
Questions around this person’s mental state, motives, future actions all were voiced. No one seemed comfortable and everyone wanted to go home. Or at least away from the courtroom. I was personally wondering the amount of the fine for leaving jury duty. I’d happily cough up a couple hundred dollars to get out of this place.
Before we knew it, the courtroom doors swung open and the court officer was escorting Juror #37 out of the building. We heard through the grapevine that situations like this result in a hefty fine. Some suggested she may be arrested for a similar offense as yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater.
One thing is for sure…
We may never know what happened to Juror #37.