Three weeks ago, on the day that Barack Obama became President #44, I became Juror #681.
That’s the number assigned to me when I reported for jury service in the St. Louis County Circuit Courts, ready for a day that I knew would not include my being impaneled.
Several attorneys have told me they would never choose me because they try to keep the jury room free of opinionated people who might try to sway the verdict by injecting reason and rational thought into the process. Logic and the ability to persuade, while central to the talents of a talk show host, are apparently anathema to the jury process. Besides that, I have a beard, which is an immediate giveaway that I’m a witch who has the ability to cloud men’s minds. Wait, that’s The Shadow. Anyway, there was no chance I’d become a juror that day.
So, I brought along some reading material and some headphones and sat patiently in the Jury Assembly Room with several hundred other county residents. Court personnel made announcements about how to get reimbursed for our parking, how much we’d get paid for our service, which forms to take back to employers as proof we’d been there, etc. Every half hour or so, a bailiff from one of the courtrooms would appear, call out a couple dozen names, and those people would forlornly pick up their belongings and go off to do their part in the legal process.
Meanwhile, quite a few people had found chairs in one of the two areas with televisions, where they were watching the inaugural pre-game show going on in Washington. By 10:40am, with the oaths of office about to be sworn by Biden and Obama, those rooms were overflowing with American citizens who wanted to witness history, myself included.
At 10:42am, another bailiff appeared to call a group of jurors away. Everyone let out a moan in unison, and those whose names were called looked even more upset than usual. The ones left behind let out a sigh of relief as we went back to concentrating on the events in DC.
No bailiffs appeared for the next hour, so we sat there watching America’s first black President take the oath of office. Some applauded, some cried, some were just happy to have the diversion. While feeling proud of how far the US had come in my lifetime, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to see this moment in our nation’s executive history pass while sitting on the sidelines of our judicial system.
I wanted to be chosen. I’ve been called for jury duty several times, but never served on a case, and would like to experience that at least once. I don’t want a civil case that’s going to drag on for months and include experts testifying about the chemical effects of exposure to chlorine gas under high pressure in a subterranean blah blah blah — but I wouldn’t mind spending a day or two on a fairly simple criminal case.
Problem is, I know I’ll never make it to the jury box. The closest I’ve gotten was undergoing voir dire with 20 or so other prospective jurors several years ago. The attorneys were questioning each of us, before accepting or rejecting us as arbiters of justice:
They started with a woman who had applied so much hairspray to her head that she risked spontaneous combustion every time she passed anything as warm as a glowing incandescent bulb.
Attorney 1: Mrs. Jenkins, you say that your son has been the victim of a crime similar to the one involved in this case. Do you think that would keep you from rendering an impartial verdict in this matter?
Mrs. Jenkins: There’s no way I can be objective when it comes to scumbags like the guy you’re defending.
Attorney 1: She’s acceptable, your honor.
Next was a guy in his mid-20s who had last showered in junior high school and had come to court wearing an MTV Spring Break t-shirt.
Attorney 2: Mr. Belton, have you or anyone in your family ever been involved in an automobile accident?
Mr. Belton: Yes, all of us were in a minivan that was hit by an 18-wheeler last year. Although none of us was seriously injured, I tracked down the next-of-kin of the truck driver in order to steal their identities and ruin their financial life by filing false reports with two of the three major credit agencies.
Attorney 2: He’s acceptable, your honor.
Then it was my turn.
Attorney 1: Mr. Harris, I always enjoy your radio show.
Me: Thank you.
Attorney 1: You’re excused.
That was it, I was out of there.
On inauguration day, my role as a cog in the judicial wheel was complete at 4pm. Along with the hundred or so other leftovers, I collected my paperwork from the clerk, who assured us that in about three weeks, we’d get a check for $11.37 to reimburse us for our time.
She also told us that, even though we hadn’t been chosen, our presence had served as an impetus for some of the parties to settle their cases or reach plea bargains. I assumed their attorneys took one look at us and decided there was no way they were going to leave their clients’ fates in our hands.
After all, most of us at this point were men with beards.