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I Am Summoned To Jury Duty

sleep tight tonight, our judicial system will

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 02, 1997.

It has been a tough sell, these days, to convince people that our Justice System is really OK. Most of the blows came from Los Angeles the Damned, naturally, probably starting with the McMartin School fiasco, then the Menendez brothers shot gunning their parents, Rodney King, the subsequent riots, the Simpson trial, the list goes ever on. Even the heroics here in Denver couldn’t overcome what is now seen as a money bought system. To add to your comfort and delight, I just wanted to tell you that last week, the entire justice system tottered and nearly collapsed. Last week, I was called to jury duty.

chosenfor duty. However, I was proudly there to serve. And, of course, my boss has to pay me just like I was at work, even though I missed five hours. Nevertheless, the quick minds out there are saying “Isn’t he a convicted felon?” And I will answer you with the stentorian tones with which I suggested the same thing to the Jury Commissioner. Yes, I am a convicted felon and .... no, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Even if I am on probation? Doesn’t matter. No attorney in the world would want me for a juror, I suggested. She agreed this event was unlikely, but I still had to show up and go through the whole rigmarole. So, I did.

At eight o’clock last Wednesday, right after I finished recording this show, I had breakfast and went to the Justice Center, stemming an urge to pop in and say hi to my probation officer, with whom I share minutes of boredom every couple of months. I waved to the various bailiffs, who waved back rather quizzically as they tried to place me, somewhat more quizzically if they already had. I marched into the Jury room and explained I’d lost my summons, could I fill out another, which I could. I got to the part where they ask about your litigious and criminal background, and I correctly checked every box. They didn’t ask what had happened to the original summons, which was that I had torn it up the day I received it, consumed with laughter at what I thought was a government computer glitch of the first water. Only when I was telling this terribly funny joke to a lawyer friend did I learn the horrid truth, and so here I was.

We were shown a short video about our wonderful jury system, directed by the same guy who produced my cable television show for two years. It starred a weatherman and a weekend anchor from a local television station. It had Colorado Supreme Court judges reading bad script to the right of the camera, pretending they were looking at us. It was deadly dull, a fact that one of my fellow jurors loudly announced in the dead silence that followed. Then, we were escorted up to a courtroom, where a visiting judge told us what would happen.

Fourteen people had their names called and were escorted to the jury box. Only six would sit for the trial. If none of the fourteen were acceptable, I might be called up. Then the two attorneys gave brief summaries of the issue in the case, admirably devoid of much prejudice, and they went to work.

There were standard questions that each of the fourteen had to answer, and right away I thought there was bad news. People had to tell their names, addresses, how long they’d lived here, if their parents were still living and what they did and if they had any children and what they did. It was a separate question to discover if any member of the family was in law enforcement, so I thought that odd. Not as odd as the answers received, however. Instead of just saying, my father is dead and he was a farmer, some of the answers were wrenching. A woman who had adopted three children had lost touch with the two oldest after a falling out. One of them was handicapped. She didn’t know where they were or what they did. It is striking to see actual pain pass across a stranger’s face, but you could see it in her face and hear it in her voice, and she answered truthfully on the record for a room of utter strangers. Was it necessary?

Something that decidedly was not necessary was the volunteered information from prospective jurors about people not party to the case or the jury at all. A woman who worked for an attorney went on about his living arrangements, his problems with his family and his firm, and in short so punctured any shroud of confidentiality or even civil behavior that I was shocked she wasn’t thrown out with a note to her boss to fire her. A man who clearly did not want to sit for a trial tried to say his mind wasn’t all there and he had trouble remembering things. When people started giggling he lost it himself, so it was less than convincing. There was, from Central Casting, a man in his seventies who was deaf as a post and so loud himself I still have a ringing in my ear. There was a woman who claimed to have once been a model who explained that family members were mentally ill, handicapped, and so she could relate to one aspect of the case, which involved a minor accident perhaps provoked by an epileptic seizure by a person also handicapped. I gave up trying to connect the dots on that one, but perhaps to others, handicapped is handicapped. She was not a convincing model, either.

Jurors were also asked to tell what television they watched. Everyone, apparently, watches 60 Minutes, and only 60 minutes. Except for the news. One woman, bless her burger flippin’ heart, said she watched nothing but soaps, and the room almost burst into applause. At issue in the case was a traffic accident, and when everyone was asked to raise their hand if they’d been in a traffic accident, everyone did. Some had been in a lot, always someone else’s fault, and this all received careful scrutiny by the lawyers, who were looking for anything that might influence their case, details of which had not been given. Each was required to remove four jurors, which should have left six, unless of course they chose the same jurors for the boot, a conundrum not publicly addressed by the judge. Apparently, they just exchanged notes until the balance was reached, and justice surged to the fore. At any rate, six were selected, and I was released without getting to emote. Hard to say who was more relieved.