Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Juror

The Juror

(Or: My Week On Jury Duty)


Today I'm off to jury duty. Yeah. They got me. Again. This is my fourth time being summoned. And I happen to know people who've NEVER had to do it. Justice indeed....

The last time I had to do this it was only for one day -- one long day of sitting around in the "jury room," unable to read a book because of the giant TV blaring over on the left, subsisting on snacks from the vending machine because I wasn't familiar with the neighborhood and didn't know I was a mere six blocks from food stands galore. They've upped it to two days, now. Oh well. At least they're gonna pay me. Like, $10. MONEYZ! :/

Jury room, 8am: I find a seat and begin what I'm sure will be a day of boredom. And then, in comes Stephanie*. I don't know Stephanie, but within half an hour I will know about her childhood, love life, medical issues, hopes, fears, dreams, and the criminal histories of her nearest and dearest. And it's not that Stephanie is even talking to me. Actually, she's sitting six feet away, talking to some other people. But her voice carries. I'm glad I'm not friends with this woman; she sounds utterly tragic.

By 9am, I have to go to the bathroom. The jury room bathrooms have the advantage of containing a speaker so that if there are any important announcements, even those going about their business will hear those announcements clearly. Problem: I am in the midst of -- well, you know -- when some important lady gets on the loudspeaker and says she's about to call a bunch of names for the first jury selection of the day. And if we hear our name, we must reply "here!" loudly. I panic. I better hurry up and get out of here; what if she calls my name? Oh, she won't... I mean, what are the odds? There are two hundred people in that jury room and she's only going to call about twenty names, so....

Yeah, she totally calls my name. And then again. And again. I rush out of the bathroom just as she's saying, "Well, maybe she's in the bathroom." I call, "here!" Laughter from the audience. I laugh along. Ha ha ha. It's so funny. It's not, really, but I figure if that's the worst thing that'll happen to me today, I'm okay. 

Up we go, the twenty of us, to a courtroom. Stephanie, the tragic chatterbox, has been called, too. Lord, if I get stuck on a jury with that girl, I'm going to throw a shoe. 

Inside the courtroom there are two lawyers. The plaintiff's lawyer is short and balding and reminds me of one of my college professors. But since you don't know who that is, I'll just call this guy George. The lawyer for the defense is a bit older, with glasses, and he's dressed very sharply indeed. I'll call him Paul.

The judge is a lady. She welcomes us to her courtroom and then asks each potential juror to reply to some questions from a list that she has on a big poster, things like our name, occupation, who we live with, and if we've ever been involved in court proceedings before. I've done questionnaire stuff in the past... the last time I was on jury duty. I wasn't invited to actually join that jury, however. I just got questioned and dismissed. I'm hoping my luck will continue today, especially when the judge says that this case is probably going to go all week. I don't want to spend the next four days here! Some of the other potential jurors must feel the same, because a few of them give excuses as to why they can not stay. The judge dismisses several folks, including Stephanie The Sad. I am relieved.

Then we are individually questioned by the lawyers. In the midst of all this, we learn that this is a civil case and, as Lawyer George puts it, his client is asking for "a big number" when it comes to money. (Later, we learn that this so-called big number is roughly $3 million. $3 million is a big number? Maybe I'm just jaded from watching too much television, but people get ransomed for more than that. This choice of wording is the first of many choices that will lead me to believe that George (and, for his own part, Paul) are trying to manipulate my mind with their lawyery tomfoolery. But more on that later.)

In the end, I am selected for the jury. There are twelve of us in all, plus two alternates. The alternates don't know who they are, but they are among the last seven that were chosen. Since I was chosen fifth or sixth, I know I am not an alternate. Which is good because I would be pretty annoyed if I spent the whole week listening to testimony and then was sent home without getting to do some judgin'.

Opening statements. Then lunch. They hand out notebooks and pens to all the jurors. Notetaking, yeah!

In comes the first witness. I'll call him Walter. Walter's wife is the plaintiff. I'll call her Mary. She's the one suing for $3 million. Walter takes the stand and says that Mary has been different since The Accident. She suffers from ailments aplenty. Sometimes, says Walter, when Mary is speaking, she forgets the names of everyday objects. This, according to Walter, is highly distressing for all. My ears prick up. Shoot, I forget words all the time. And they want HOW much money for this?

Other afflictions of Mary's include a lack of interest in the hobbies she once loved, a change in her eyesight, a twitch of her head, neck soreness, etc. Well. None of those sound that out of the ordinary, especially when you're in your sixties, as Mary is. And her lawyer says that these afflictions were all caused by The Accident? And that the causers of the accident (the defendants) should pay? Oh, this is gonna be a long week....


Today's first witness is a doctor for the plaintiff's side. He says that after The Accident, Mary did not get a CT scan at the hospital. Darn hospital, if they would only have done one (though they had no real reason to) they would have seen that Mary had been physically damaged by The Accident. BUT NO. FOOLS.

A friend of Mary's takes the stand. She says she has known Mary for about ten years, through their joint hobbies. Her testimony, as a whole, seems pretty useless, but on her way out of the courtroom she gives Mary's shoulder a squeeze. I feel for Mary. I feel for this lady. Twinge of sadness. EMOTIONS, NOOO!

Next witness: Mary herself! She doesn't sound like she has a difficult time speaking... at least no more than your average introvert would...  and mentally, she seems pretty with it. And then, a possible flub. We know that in a deposition Mary gave, she stated one thing about her post-accident physical activities -- but here on the stand, she says the opposite. Did the other jurors catch that? I write furiously in my notebook.

Throughout the day we learn all kinds of stuff about Mary and her ailments, all of which leave me going, "but that's easily treatable! And so's that! And that!" We hear that Mary doesn't exercise anymore. That she doesn't follow a doctor's diet but one she came up with herself. And that she doesn't take prescription medications, ever, if she can help it. 

So if not for treatment, just what ARE you planning to use that $3 mil for, Mary? I begin to feel bitter. I want good things for Mary, but only if she can be HELPED. If she's not willing to... oh, I don't even know anymore.

One thing I can say, though, is that this trial... this process... is so interesting. I had thought that sitting and listening to blathering testimony for four or five days would be mind-numbing, but it really isn't. It's like watching a crime drama on TV... okay, a poorly-edited, mediocrely-acted one, but a drama nonetheless. This... dare I say it... is actually kind of fun!

Plus, I love getting to eat lunch downtown each day. So many dining options! I think of how I could be at work instead, eating another cold, packed lunch, sitting in my dimly-lit room at my cluttered desk. Instead I get to eat out in the sun, by a fountain. Yo ho, yo ho, a juror's life for me!


The day begins with a video witness, which in reality is just a witness who wasn't able to come to court, because of his doctorly duties, I presume, but it feels kind of special, like a Video Daily Double on Jeopardy. I mean, sure, videos slow the whole process down, but then they don't happen every day, so.... 

Video Witness shows us brain scan after brain scan from an MRI of Mary. Wow. Photographic slicing of the head. This is really awkward, especially considering Mary is sitting right over there. According to VW, Mary's brain looks pretty dang normal for a person her age, so it is unlikely it got damaged in The Accident at all.

Two more witnesses -- one a doctor, the other, a nurse practitioner. The doctor proves to be an amusing witness because he gets very cranky when being questioned by Lawyer Paul. He starts to act all testy, and I wonder if he will explode with anger. I wonder if it'll be like on TV where he's called a hostile witness, dragged out of the courtroom, and sent to a holding cell until he's cooled down. Or... if none of that actually happens and I'm just crazy. Probable.

We learn that Mary has been prescribed many, many medications of the years, and has taken many of them. So wait... what was she saying yesterday, about not taking medications? WHY DOESN'T THIS MAKE ANY SENSE? Maybe it's the Lit major in me, but I've always been fairly good at spotting inconsistencies when presented with a bunch of information. And I'm spotting them here, definitely. I wonder if the other jurors are catching all this? MARY, WTF, YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE THIS CASE IF YOU KEEP THIS UP. Okay, well, carry on.

We learn that Mary's cognitive abilities have allegedly diminished since The Accident. To prove this, Exhibit #4.7 or whatever is... I give you... Mary's high school and college transcripts. We're talking transcripts from the 1960's. Back then, Mary got mostly A's and B's, proving (?) that she was once highly intelligent. Heavens, if I ever make it to my sixties and wind up in court and have MY TRANSCRIPTS displayed as evidence with me sitting right there, I will just die. But then, is that really worse than an entire roomful of strangers being treated to scans/pictures of the interior of your head? I'll have to think about that one.

By the end of Wednesday I have not heard a single thing that has convinced me Mary's current troubles are a direct result of The Accident. And that's what Mary's lawyer George really needs to prove. Oh, George... it's not looking good, pal. With two days to go, and mostly witnesses for the defense to hear from -- I wonder if my mind can and will possibly be changed by Friday. I wonder if the other jurors are thinking the same thoughts I am. (We're not allowed to discuss the case with one another.) I wonder what will happen in the end?


We start at 9. We hear the testimony of two doctors who are witnesses for the defense. They both seem very intelligent, but as this is the fourth day of testimony, we jurors are hearing a lot of repeat information and I'm beginning to grow tired. I keep waiting to hear that ONE key piece of evidence that might sway my current opinion on the case. I keep waiting....

Meanwhile, I am becoming acutely aware of the way the lawyers word things. The way that a seemingly simple sentence can have undertones and overtones and that each word is calculated with the ultimate goal of reaching into my brain and manipulating it to respond accordingly.

It feels strange to me, too, that I will get to play a part in the outcome of this case. It's not like watching a law show on television, where you can root for one party, but you have no say in how things turn out. Here, the things I am hearing are things that it is MY responsibility to process. I am going to have to make a big decision soon. And these lawyers, seriously, need to stop trying to get in my head, because I'M ON TO YOU, AND YOU ARE MAKING ME MAD.

Today we are granted a two-hour lunch. I grab a sandwich at a local shop, then hitch a ride on the streetcar to Jamison Square. JS is home to a fountain that serves as an urban swimming hole for hipster toddlers. Today is no exception; the preschool set is out in droves. I eat, and then go hang out at Powell's for a while. Two hours to kill downtown. Man, a girl could get used to this!

After lunch, another witness, and then... that's it! For witnesses, at least. The judge then reads us jurors a booklet of information. Closing arguments: George keeps it simple; Paul drones on. Then it's time to deliberate.

The two "alternate" jurors are dismissed without ceremony. I'm sad because they are two people I kind of liked. The rest of us are put in a small room next door to the courtroom. We're supposed to choose a "leader," or at least someone who can hand the judge the verdict in the end. Some of the others immediately turn to Redshirt, a guy who has been making a lot of small talk over the past few days. Redshirt agrees, and power immediately seems to go to his head. Around the juror table, people all keep trying to talk at once, but instead of trying to moderate the mayhem, Redshirt joins the fray. Finally we agree to use a freaking talking stick... of sorts.

It takes more than an hour for us to go around the table and for each person to have a chance to speak his piece. I'm growing frustrated because I'm starting to see that some people weren't listening to the proceedings as closely as I was (I took nine pages of notes, dangit!). When I bring up some key connections and contradictions that I saw throughout the trial, a few people nod in agreement but others look at me like "What? I didn't hear them say those things!" WHY WERE NOT YOU LISTENING? Roar.

It's nearly 5 o'clock, and we're nowhere near agreeing on anything, so we decide to reconvene Friday morning. I spend half of Thursday night in agony because I suddenly remember that I think we all overlooked a key component of the case. Perhaps that can be remedied in the morning (it is), but until morning comes, I am distressed.


I don't particularly like riding the Max. Lest I be a traitor to the coalition for a greener Portland, I find it to be mostly bothersome. Bumpy, pungent, and too many stops. On the plus side, I can now say, "This is a Green Line train to Portland City Center and Hillsboro" en EspaƱol, so I suppose its nothing if not educational. I've learned some other new words, too, but alas -- they are unprintable. ;)

Back to deliberation in the jury room. Opinions all differ, but we have a job to do... and that is to decide what damages -- meaning money -- we should award Mary (if any). We all know there WAS An Accident, but that was three years ago. Mary is currently suffering, but how much of that pain and suffering was BECAUSE OF The Accident? How much money should she get? We all seem to agree on what to award for "economic damages" (she had actual medical bills that, I guess, insurance didn't cover, right afterward) But the "noneconomic"? The good ol' "pain and suffering" stuff? Not so easy. I'm rather inclined to think that Mary and her lawyer deserve nothing because, let's face it, they didn't prove their case. Not by a long shot. But some of the other jurors are throwing out bigger numbers, ie $500,000. I'm appalled. It's not that I think large amounts should never be awarded in civil cases; but in this case? No, no, no.

We try to compromise, first with everyone throwing out an amount and someone calculating the average, then everyone adjusting their figures. Then informal voting. Only 9 out of 12 people need to agree in order for the verdict to be official. After nearly 2 hours, enough of us agree on an amount. It's far more than I would have wanted to award, but much less than half a million, and much MUCH less (of course) than that $3 million they wanted. Thank. Goodness. For. Reason.

Redshirt takes a note to the judge to say we're ready. Now we can relax and talk about anything. Someone brings up the subject of Stephanie. Remember her, from Monday? Apparently several of my fellow jurors were also privy to her many complaints and woes. Girl sure made an impression! I wonder where she is now? Hmmm... wait, don't care.

Before too long we're called into the courtroom and the judge reads the verdict aloud. I try to gauge the reactions of the lawyers, Mary, and the others involved, but everyone appears stoic. Neither George nor Paul bursts into tears, so... that's good? Guess no one's exactly happy with the amount, though... George wanted it to be more, Paul wanted it to be less. Now, come to think of it, Mary's husband looks pretty dejected. Well, I'm sorry for your wife's troubles, but I'm also sorry this whole crazy thing had to go to trail. Also sorry your lawyer didn't prove your case.

Afterwards, as I head home, I begin to have doubts. Was I wrong in not wanting to give Mary much money? Sure, her lawyer didn't prove her case, but... she's probably upset with the amount. After having to go through so much... The Accident, this lawsuit... having her brain scans, medical problems, even her high school transcripts presented to a bunch of strangers... could any amount of money make her feel better after all that? Did I make the right decision? Did we, the jury, consult ALL the facts? Did some people act on emotion? OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE???

Being a juror is interesting, but it's also kind of powerful. You're basically a judge divided into twelve parts. And I really don't like that power. I should... I mean, I should at least feel honored or satisfied that I did this, but... guh, it's so annoying to be left with that feeling of Did I do the right thing??? especially when it's concerning someone else's life!

Well, overall, the week wasn't bad. I enjoyed being downtown, I liked being in the courtroom and learning a bunch of interesting things from the doctor-witnesses. I did not like deliberating with a bunch of people, some of whom were dominating and loud-mouthed. I did NOT like having to make a huge decision. I did not like the feeling I had afterward.

And now, thank goodness, I've got three long years before I can be called for jury duty again. I'll cherish those years.

But I may head downtown for lunch a little more often in the future.... :)

*All names have been changed.... I think.


Becklynn's Thinkabouts said...

That was great, Molly! You're such a talented storyteller. I've been summoned for jury duty numerous times, but have never once even been called out of that annoying waiting room, much less made it onto a jury. Thank you for a fun peek into the mind of a conscientious juror.

molly said...

It's strange how many people have said to me some version of, "You actually got on a jury?" Meanwhile one lady at work told me she's been on numerous juries (and apparently loves it!) and our principal has been on two juries. So it happens... just... to the same people over and over? (Oh no!)