So, like a dutiful citizen of the State of California and the City and County of San Francisco, I schlepped the seven blocks from my apartment building to the Superior Court building this morning to do my tour of duty as a civil court prospective juror.
Two years ago, the week of Sept. 11, 2001, was the last time I was called up. It was the criminal court that time, I think. I’m not sure. I sat in the juror waiting room all day and was never called into a courtroom. This time around, not only was I called up on the first panel of the day, I was part of the first group to be seated in the jury box, AND, I was the first person seated in the jury box.
First name of the day: Nancy Shaffer, seat 1.
I was doomed. You sit and try to look detached and like you’d rather be elsewhere in your cool black leather jacket. ‘Cause I did want to be elsewhere. Florence, Italy. Paris, France. My living room. My office at work where I had two meetings scheduled today.
But as time goes by, I realize I’m not going anywhere. Dozens of questions, issues, potential problems get thrown at the prospective jury panel. None of them apply to me. I’m not even asked to open my mouth until they get to the general questions: name, occupation, education, children, yada, yada. And of course, I’m the first one who has to answer all that. Nancy Shaffer, Database Administrator, PhD in Philosophy, single, no kids, no other adults living in my house. Not human ones, anyway.
I’m listening to everyone else talk, raise their hands when something applies to them. Nothing applies to me. It’s a lawsuit, but it’s not in any area that remotely touches my experience: rental disputes, faulty hip replacements. This one is about a traffic accident. I can say that, can’t I? Or is that TMI?
I mean, I have no biases, no special hardships, no personal knowledge of anyone involved in the case, or the city intersection in question.
When the attorneys have an opportunity to question prospective jurors in more detail, the Defendant’s attorney asks me where I got my degree at. Where I taught. Why I am no longer teaching. I tell her the names of the schools. I tell her I wasn’t a very good teacher. I tell her I’d still rather be a philosopher than a Database Administrator. But it’s all irrelevant to the facts of the case as I know them.
Then they start the phase where the Plaintiff’s attorney and the Defendant’s attorney “excuse with thanks” jurors they don’t want. I forget what it’s called. First for the Plaintiff. First for the Defendant, blah, blah. I watch people who’ve been in lawsuits or have special medical knowledge or who are too young or too old (and therefore might be prejudiced against or in favor of the people involved) leave the courtroom one by one. To go back downstairs to the jury waiting room, of course. One day, one trial. They have to go downstairs and wait to see if another panel might need them.
But I’m here. And this particular trial will last 4-5 days, followed by jury deliberations. Not too bad, all things considered. No one at work will even notice I’m gone for that period of time. That’s the kind of job I have. Only my boss who I never see will be vaguely aware that I’m sitting on a jury somewhere. I worry about that. Jury duty. Ten years ago I served on a jury for a case involving drug possession. It was difficult. You felt like you had to take notes on everything. Put it all together like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It was a Big Responsibility. I’m sitting here now today in the court room worried that I might be afraid to speak my mind, give my opinions about stuff. I only like to give my opinions when I can run away afterwards and not be rebutted.
Finally, the Plaintiff’s attorney waives his sixth and final opportunity to excuse a juror. It goes to the Defendant’s attorney. She asks for a minute to think, and then pours over her notes. Time ticks by. I’m wondering what I will do during the lunch period, since I already ate at the break. I wonder if I will go back to work after the judge talks to us jury members. I wonder if my colleagues will be available tomorrow for meetings, because the trial starts Thursday. I wonder if the judge will crack as many jokes once the trial starts. Finally, the Defendant’s attorney sits up and says, “I ask the court to excuse with thanks the prospective juror in seat number 1”. The judge says, “Ms. Shaffer, you may go.”
My body gets out of the chair and starts to leave, which is good, because my mind is still planning my week in court. But I’m out the door and down the elevator to the jury waiting room on auto-pilot feeling like some mystic goddess I’ve never heard of decided to smile on me for no particular reason. I mean, the attorney was not required to give any reason why she asked to excuse me. So all I can do is speculate. Was it the philosophy degree? That’s what I always think of first. “You know those philosophers. They think too much.” Was it my age? My hair style? My leather jacket? Was it because I was a lousy philosophy teacher? Or did she read my mind? “I really don’t want to miss work even though there isn’t any compelling reason I can give you as to why.”
At any rate, downstairs, I get in line. As it turns out, they don’t require any more jurors to fill panels that day. They give me a slip of paper to give to my boss, and send me on my way. I nervously run for the street car eating the half-melted chocolate that sat in the bottom of my book-bag all morning. And now I’m back at work ’cause you never know, people might still want to have those meetings I begged out of this morning. No jury duty for masqthephlsphr after all.
‘Course, there’s always next year.