Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doing My Civic Duty - Part 1

I just spent six long days in the jailhouse
for the crime of having no dough,
and now I'm back out on the street
for the crime of having nowhere to go.
--The Band

...the Sixth Amendment states that if you are accused of a crime, you have the right to a trial before a jury of people too stupid to get out of jury duty.
--Dave Barry

As mentioned recently, I've just spent two days on jury duty. Since my posts have a tendency to become rambling and disconnected, reflecting the actual activity in my brain, I've decided to split the experience into two posts. Today's post will cover the events leading up to the actual jury selection and trial.

First, you get a summons. It's threatening. You must report for jury duty or you'll be sitting on the other side of the witness box. You have to call a phone number after 5:00 PM the night before you're supposed to report to see if your group number has to show up. Isn't that convenient? You can't plan anything. You have to tell your boss that you may or may not show up for work the next day. Meetings scheduled? Need to take your kid to ball practice? Tough toenails, Harry. You're officially on hold until after 5:00.

So you call and you gotta go. Crap. Now to find the Fairfax District Court, which is located in beautiful Old Town Fairfax. Just because you're showing up doesn't mean you'll actually get on a jury, so maybe it won't be so bad.

Aside: Why does every town in Virginia have an "Old Town" section? I haven't actually found Old Town Pentagon City yet, but I'm sure it must exist.

I have a horrible sense of direction. I've been known to find myself going the wrong direction on a street, pull into a side street in order to turn around, and then continue on in the same wrong direction on the original street. Because of this, I rely heavily on my state atlases, and in the past few years I've relied extremely heavily on Yahoo and Google Maps. The summons tells me that the court is on Chain Bridge Road and that there's public parking "across the street" on Page Road. So I map both places. Much to my chagrin, the maps are extremely different, considering that one facility is "across the street" from the other. So what do I do? I take 'em both. May as well get lost twice. I also leave about two hours early because I will get lost. I promise.

The last direction on the map to the courthouse tells me to turn left onto Chain Bridge Road from VA-236. I can do that. Except that I can't. There's a big NO LEFT TURN sign on VA-236 at Chain Bridge Road. What do I do now? If you've ever driven through Old Town Fairfax, you'll know that it's an exercise in guesswork. (Even as I was leaving to come home, I saw a sign on Chain Bridge that said, "VA-236 East - Second Light". What it didn't tell me was which direction to turn at the second light. I had a 50/50 shot at it. Do you think I got it right? If you said yes, then you haven't been following along. I HAVE NO SENSE OF DIRECTION.) So I'm lost. I'm close, but I'm lost, and my mind is chanting contemptofcourtcontemptofcourtcontemptofcourt because I just KNOW that I'm going to be late and they're going to be a bunch of humorless bastards.

Anyway, eventually small signs that say "Judicial Square", which sounds right to me, get me to a parking garage that I think may be the one on Page Road that the instructions tell me about. There's a nice sheriff parked nearby, so I confirm with him that I'm in the right place.

I'm actually early, so I wait.

What I failed to ask the sheriff is where I go now. "Across the street" is the blank wall of a building. So I go wandering around behind juvenile detention facilities and police stations, waiting for the sirens and searchlights to pick me out. About a half hour later, I find that if I had turned left out of the parking lot instead of right (of course), then I would have encountered one of those nice directories with a "You Are Here" spot on it.

Having ascertained the general direction I need to walk, I proceed to find the Fairfax District Court which, by the way, neither faces nor is actually located on Chain Bridge Road, as nearly as I can tell. Happy to have been so resourceful thus far, I go inside where a uniformed deputy screams, "WE DON'T OPEN UNTIL 8:00!!! YOU'LL HAVE TO WAIT OUTSIDE!!" So I back slowly out of the door, stroll down the street, find a convenience store, and get a cup of coffee which by this time I'm pretty desperate for.

And I wait.

At 8:00, I go inside where three different people ask me if my cell phone has a camera in it (it doesn't). And that's before I go through an airport-style security screening where I have to empty all my pockets and take off my belt. Not sure why the belt thing is important, but there are approximately 137 deputies standing behind the three lines of security portals, all yelling intermittently that we can't have knives, weapons, cameras, laptops with cameras, cell phones with cameras; there are three lines please; remove your belt; empty your pockets into one the white baskets; do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around; that's what it's all about.

Having cleared that hurdle, I now follow the signs to the Jury Assembly Room on the 5th floor.

And I wait.

Eventually the doors open and about 200 of us file in, get our jury badges, get our parking validated, delousing and cavity search. OK, I made those last two up, but it sure seemed like that was the way it was headed. Find a seat.

And I wait.

They showed us a neat little film in which some actor has all sorts of questions about jury duty interspersed with some deer-in-the-headlights judge answering them. They understand that it's an inconvenience, but we're lucky that we live in such a great country where we can send our fellow citizens to jail after they've committed all of our faces to memory. The actor concludes by telling us how it actually turned out to be pretty interesting and he felt good about doing his civic duty.


And I wait.

Some time later, a line of brown-uniformed deputies comes into the jury room with lists of names. They all have exactly the same spiel: "When I call your name, please answer 'here'. I apologize in advance if I mispronounce your name, and I promise that I will." This got a chuckle from the first one. The next 5? Not so much.

This is the point at which you start praying to the Universe and whatever god or gods you have ever heard of that they don't call your name.

Bailiff: Er.... Tome Suh My Tha?
Voice: Here.
Bailiff: How do you pronounce that?
Voice: Tom Smith
Bailiff: Thank you. Er.... Sway Jo Ness?
Voice: Here.
Bailiff: How do you pronounce that?
Voice: Sue Jones.
Bailiff: Thank you. Er... El Vice Pre Slay?

And so it goes. You make it past the first bailiff, the second, the third, you're considering how much money to contribute to the Druids since that's the one that seemed to work for you, you open your eyes and realize that there are probably only about 10 people left in the room, and there's still one bailiff to go. I said it before and I'll say it again: Crap.

Bailiff: Jy Lay Hie?
Me: Crap! I mean here!

So I and 13 of my fellow civic-minded cattle file out to the assigned courtroom.

And I wait.

Eventually we are led into the courtroom where the judge asks us questions, followed by the attorneys asking us questions. This, I figure, is my last good chance at not actually getting on a jury.

"Yes, your honor, I fully believe that anyone who's even accused of jaywalking should fry like a pork chop."

They eventually call seven names and have them move to another section of the room. YES! It worked! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Then the judge points to the other group and tells them that they can go back to the Jury Assembly Room, and congratulates the seven of us on being impaneled as a jury.


[Stay tuned for tomorrow's exciting conclusion!]


lacochran said...

Where do I report for lousing?

Gilahi said...

From what I've heard, Adams Morgan.

Bilbo said...

Tomorrow, take a three-foot length of clothesline with you and keep ostentatiously braiding it into a noose while you wait. It can't hurt.

Sean said...

Trying to find the Fairfax County courthouse is not easy even for those who have a decent sense of direction. It doesn't help that there tends to be construction around there too.

Gilahi said...

bilbo - Unfortunately, it's over now. They probably wouldn't have let me through security with clothesline anyway.

sean - Yeah, and half the streets are one way the wrong way. On the second day, it took me an hour and a half to get there, I made it with 3 minutes to spare, and I wasn't the last one to show up.

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