Trial By Jury Duty
We are noble citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave, fully knowledgeable that no restraint upon our actions shall accrue from our righteous citizenship. Not for us the slaver's thong, the conscript's chains, the bondsman's burden. If we live well, if we truly observe the duly constituted laws of the land, pay our taxes and don't spit on the sidewalk, no other duty, not even the burden and privilege of the plebiscite, shall be imposed upon us, save only voluntarily.
Guess again, Sparky. Welcome to jury duty.
I received my first King County jury summons long about twelve years ago, as I reckon. The terms were simple: Greetings. You are summoned. Report here. With the standard ugly backup IT IS A CRIME TO INTENTIONALLY NOT REPORT. Being at the time the proud possessor of a severely disabled wife and no visible means of support, I politely claimed hardship and demurred. King County was pleased to leave me alone.
Last year, newly rewed to a fully functional (thank you) woman, I was underwhelmed to find the same unpleasantly preemptive form in my mailbox again. I performed what I could of the Toranaga Shuffle and put the summons off for a year, my only alternative if I didn't want to just, y'know, lie my way out of it. Because, really, what kind of a good citizen does that?
A-a-and, sure as a bad penny, last month I was stuck with the bill for all my procrastination, yet another growly little flier with no wiggle room left except to comply or do what 2/3rds of everyone else does: throw it in the recycle and ignore it, IT IS A CRIME or no. Somehow, though, I couldn't quite justify evading civic responsibility to myself, myself being the type who wears a "Shut up and vote!" t-shirt on election day, as a genuine hardship. Stupid myself.
This was the point at which I should have realized that involuntary servitude at $10 a day is in and of itself a hardship to anyone who isn't exceedingly well-employed and compensated by their company (lucky them!), independently wealthy, retired, or all of the above, which if you think about it puts a great big monkey wrench square in the teeth of the whole justice system. With the 1% already skewing headily into Randroid self-righteousness, how's a hapless po' folk supposed to get a trial of their peers? Anybody likely to understand the motivations of a wage slave is probably a wage slave too, and bound and determined not to be shelled out of his crappy subsistence pay to judge the quick and the dead or the dim and moribund either. Not for that cheap, anyways.
But no, dutiful Thaddeus scraped himself from his warm bed and the tender embrace of his loving spouse at what-the-honk-time-is-it? o'clock and woozily buckity-bucketed downtown to Represent. Dragged to the courthouse door with attitude in tow, I barely made it through the metal detector in the sub-TSA inspection station without being summarily executed by the presiding marshall, who was probably having a bad day himself. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't seem to get everything out of my pocketses.
I proceeded to the relentlessly cheery jury assignment room, where a relentlessly cheery employee of the state was ever so pleased to explain to the vast herd of us the labyrinthine selection process, as well as finer points on just how monumentally screwed we'd be if we were actually chosen. There was a welcoming speech by a sitting judge and a hideous orientation video with soundtrack music that could have broken Gitmo prisoners as well. Whatever. They had wifi and I had a laptop, so for the short term we were square. I drowned my sorrows in web surfing while a few carloads of other candidates were hauled off to be sniff tested.
Then it was my turn. Number in hand, I trudged with my fellow inmates down worn marble corridors, packed into steampunk elevators dating from the Coolidge administration and wheezed up to the court, where obscenely overdressed lawyers, uniformed bailiffs and court officials the like gave us a generous dose of the stink eye. The judge walked us through the process of jury duty and swore us in, and we braced ourselves to be vetted, only to be evicted by the very first question: would a trial lasting two weeks or more present an undue hardship? Hmm, lemme think. Would being sequestered from my uncertain means of survival for a week and six days beyond my safety margin with the wolves circling the wagons and hungry winter full upon us constitute a burden? Why, yes. Yes it would. My new-found lack of civic responsibility had a lot of company — close to half of us bailed on that same premise. Our next assignation had been around the block: they passed out questionnaires regarding our availability, and I never left the selection room. After that they sent me home for the day.
Day number two I got hooked — a drunk driving trial with only two witnesses, open and probably shut quick. The prosecutor and the defender (aka the Shark and the Weasel) rose to make their examinations, dangling open-ended suppositions and baited questions before us like old men with candy and furiously attempting to jump start the dead engines of our civil consciousness. I tried to remain proper (who? tactless? me?) until, after half an hour of the Shark's banal gimmes ("Who's seen someone who was drunk? Anyone? How did you know?"), the Weasel hocked up one of his own while whittling deviously away at the standard Drunk Test: "Have you ever been told to do something?"
Before I could safely jam my foot into my mouth, out came "I was told to report for jury duty."
As a fellow escapee and I fled the court, he muttered "Never been so happy to be rejected for something in my life."