The trial concluded Thursday evening, at which time my fellow jurors and I were sent to deliberate the fate of another human being.
It took less than an hour for us to reach a unanimous verdict — guilty on all 31 counts, including 19 that we thought up ourselves.
Note: My contribution to this was “wretched and aggravated waste of everyone’s time, a third-degree felony, punishable by public flogging.”
We also recommended that sentence be passed immediately, offering the unfortunate soul a choice of being hurled into rush-hour traffic on the south side (500 South) of the Matheson Courthouse or life as a state legislator.
Truthfully, it was a personal-injury case, and nothing exciting happened.
So ended my first and only term as a member of a jury. Having done our civic duty, jurors No. 3, No. 5 (me), No. 6, No. 8, No. 15, No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18 wept, embraced and promised to stay in touch. Then we went back to our normal lives.
Since we had deliberated past business hours, the courthouse’s underground parking garage was ominously dim and hollow, setting just the right tone for solemn reflection about the case or possibly being stalked and eaten by a monster.
I sat in my ride for a moment and wondered if we had done a proper job. It was a traffic-crash injury case, of which there are millions every year in America. Fault had to be assessed and compensation measured. Did we get it right?
Yeah, I think we did. I say this because profanity in the jury room (uttered mostly by No. 16 and me) was kept at a minimum, there were no physical altercations, and no money exchanged hands. We came to our verdict by following Judge Kara Pettit’s instructions.
During the two days of lawyer gabbing, we took notes, listened to witnesses (both expert and regular) and kept our opinions to ourselves as ordered.
Even though we ate lunch and waited in rooms together, no one ever said a thing about the case, except the time when I asked, “How much longer is this going to take?”
Jurying is mostly about listening. It’s considered bad form to fall asleep, annoy the judge, or force the bailiff to single you out for attention. I managed to avoid all three.
It’s not all grim business. There were lighter moments, like when I asked Judge Pettit if she had ever ordered the bailiff to Taser anyone in her courtroom.
Her honor • “Not yet.”
Me • “I shall keep that in mind, your majesty.”
And I did. I normally don’t do well in churchlike environs. They’re often boring, overly formal and quiet to the point of sensory deprivation.
But unlike whatever clergy leads your worship service, Judge Pettit tolerated no snoring, screaming kids, snacking or uninvited commentary from the congregation.
That’s what most surprised me. Jury duty was nothing like TV court, where somebody is always leaping about hollering, “Objection, your honor!” or “You can’t handle the truth!”
There were no indiscreet courthouse romances, screaming defendants, vile threats of retribution, or idiotic gavel hammering for order.
Worse, there were no surprise dramas. The doors didn’t burst open to admit a new witness dragged in from a jungle or frozen wasteland whose astonishing testimony would prevent a terrible injustice.
So, that’s it for me for another two years. I won’t be eligible for jury duty again until 2020. That should give you enough time to prepare.