EPS (justeps) wrote,

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Jury of Yo' Peeps

Once a year, San Francisco Superior Court gets to summon me for Jury Duty. That's not exactly true; they can summon me whenever they want--they just can't have me unless at least a year has passed. This summons came a year and a half since my federal service, so this week: I belong to them.

After three days of "we don't need you today--check back tomorrow," they ordered me to report to the Civil Juror Assembly Room at 8:30 a.m. This was the first time I'd been there; previous summons were for Criminal Division, which is located in the Hall of Justice, in a scary part of town, south of Market. Civil Division is across the street from City Hall. The Juror Assembly Room is much nicer here; the decor isn't as sterile, the seats are more comfortable, there's an area set up specifically for laptop users, with power outlets and analog phone jacks (which let you dial numbers in the 415, 800, 888, or 877 area codes--I guess 866 users are out of luck; and you have to dial 9 first). There's supposed to be Wi-Fi access (with some arrangement for IPP printing) supplied by Courtroom Connect (I didn't come equipped to verify this). This wants some sort of authorization code, which you should be able to get either online through their captive portal (SSID "cc") -or- by calling a non-toll-free number. Quite a few people had brought laptop computers: about 60% Dell and 40% Apple (evenly split between PowerBooks and iBooks). By the way, cell phone coverage is practically nonexistent in here. In the back of the room you'll find restrooms, pay phones, drinking fountains, and vending machines (12 oz. cans of soda are 75¢). There's a decent-looking café just off the corridor leading to the Juror Assembly room.

Commercial air travel is the best preparation for the prospective juror. First, you have to pass through a metal detector after entering the building. Unlike airports, this security checkpoint is staffed by friendly people with a clue (i.e. not TSA). Like airports, plenty of people who pass through [unintentionally] leave valuable things behind. There's plenty of sitting around doing nothing. Unlike airplanes, there's no beverage service. Like airplanes, there's a video presentation before the fun begins.

Around 9:30, we were shown a three-year-old propaganda piece produced by the Judicial Council of California, extolling the virtues of jury service. Most people in the room ignored it.

The room attendant then announced that, pursuant to California's Code of Civil Procedure, anyone employed by any local, state, or federal government agency (even part-time) was prohibited from receiving any sort of compensation whatsoever for being a juror--not even the mere pittance the rest of us were entitled to ($2.50 for travel plus $15 a day, starting with the second day or service). And anyone else who "voluntarily" wanted to forgo payment could also fill out a "fee waiver" form to Not Get Paid. When those were taken care of, she started rubber-stamping parking validations.

Just before 10:00, jurors' names were called one at a time, and we directed to courtrooms upstairs. There were people filling the hallway; no one went inside. The court clerk came out and said, "I don't know who put this sign here," and bade us enter. Once my cohorts had taken seats in the back, the clerk called 24 names, and assigned each person a numbered seat in, and some just in front of, the jury box. I wasn't one of them. She then called roll for the rest of us, and explained that sitting around and doing nothing was what The Juror Experience was all about. Besides the clerk and the court reporter, there were three other people--two men and a woman--who at various points got up to enter the judge's chambers, and then returned a while later. This went on several times. We had no idea who they were, or what was going on. The court reporter fiddled with her computer, and then the judge's computer, then her computer, then the judge's computer, and then hers again. She spent the rest of the time in front of her computer, no doubt surfing the web for the latest celebrity gossip. The clerk did much the same, occasionally interrupted by a ringing telephone on her desk. She told us to take a 20-minute break, and return at 10:30.

After we got back, the clerk told us--for those of us who were curious--they were trying to settle the case.

More waiting ... A man sitting next to me--well-groomed and decked out in a fashionable business suit--who had been scrutinizing a copy of The New Yorker, let out an audible "This is so stupid!" before going back to his magazine.

Around 11:15, the clerk said it was O.K. to get up and leave the courtroom, as long as we stayed close by in case we were called back. I remained in my seat until 11:30, when I stepped out to check on a little social club that had formed in front of the courtroom entrance. They were chatting about their prior experiences as jurors, which didn't particularly interest me. I returned to my seat about five minutes later.

At 11:45, one of the "unnumbered" prospective jurors fell asleep, and started snoring loudly. The rest of us just started smiling and giggling uncontrollably. The court clerk didn't say anything.

At 12:00, we expected to be turned loose for an hour for lunch. Noon came and went, and we were still seated. It was 12:30 when the clerk announced, "all rise," and we finally got to see the judge. She was a tiny woman, and pretty much a dead ringer for Saturday Night Live's Rachel Dratch.

The judge wouldn't give us any details about the matter before the court, and told us to take a lunch break, and return at 1:30. That left only 55 minutes to eat and get back. Grr.

I went back downstairs to the Juror Assembly Room and picked up a copy of their nearby restaurant list. It was rather extensive, but incomplete. I thought it best to patronize an unlisted establishment, so I headed for Gyro King on Grove St., across from the Main Library. There were gospel singers performing on the steps of City Hall, presumably for the National Day of Prayer. They wrapped up as I returned to the courthouse.

I took my seat at 1:25, and at 1:30, the judge entered the courtroom and directed us to stay seated. "I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you're not going to be jurors today. The good news is that you'll have another chance a year from now." Isn't that what they call "gallows humor?" She then went on to apologize for how little jurors were paid (of course, none of us would get anything, because we'd only serve one day), but that our service was appreciated, and the court thanked us. She explained that our presence wasn't pointless; having us pack the courtroom was a deliberate tactic to coax the parties to settle instead of going to trial. She then said the three people in front of us would like to thank us as well. The obviously affluent lily-white metrosexual gave his name, and identified himself as attorney for the plantiff, and told us the woman next to him was the plantiff. The black man in the cheap suit identified himself as representing The City, and thanked us for our service today. The judge then sent us back to the Juror Assembly Room to check out and receive our Proof of Service certificates. We never did find out what the case was about. I felt pretty stupid for having just spent $6 on lunch, only to be sent home minutes later.


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