This is the tale of Monday July 14, 2008 when I had to report to federal jury duty. A tale of civic duty and civic boredom. Strap your selves in for the ride of a lifetime. (Am I selling too hard? Maybe.)

A few weeks ago I was notified, by mail, that I had to report to the Federal Court House at 500 Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan at 8:30 AM. No cell phones allowed. My exemption for my 2004 county jury duty had run out. Time to head to the big city.

The first thing this meant was that I would have to be up at 5:45 AM and out of the house by 6:15 to catch a 6:39 bus to NYC. I haven’t had to do that in a while. The bus put me into the Port of Authority Bus Terminal at about 7:35 and from there I had to catch the A train (cue music) downtown to the Chambers Street Station. Then a funny thing happened. It was as I arrived at the Chambers Street station that it struck me that I had no idea which direction Pearl Street and the courthouse were. That far downtown in NYC the streets don’t run in a predictable grid pattern. It’s the old Dutch part of town and the streets run every which way. For the first time in many years I had to ask a passerby for directions. It was really weird not knowing where I was in the city. That hasn’t happened in a decade. But I made it to the courthouse by 8:15.

There were about two to three hundred of us gathered together in the Honorable Constance Baker Motley Jury Assembly Room. It’s a big room with high ceilings and lots of chairs so we fit comfortably. We had to fill out a form and then, a the proper time, form two lines to hand in our form and the jury I.D. papers that were mailed to us. After we were all back in our seats we watched an orientation film about what to expect from jury duty. Having watched countless episodes of “Law and Order” I had some idea of what to expect.

Soon a judge called down and said he needed a jury. The head Jury Assembly guy got on the microphone and called out fifty five names. My name was among them. All of us had to respond with a, “Here”, line up two across, march our way to the elevators, and head up to the designated floor. We were warned not to rush willy-nilly into the court room (do people really do that?). Instead we were met by the head courtroom guy who escorted us into the court.

When the judge arrived the head courtroom guy reached into what I can only describe as a bingo ball turner and pulled out names one by one to fill the twelve jurors’ seats. Mine was one of the twelve names called. Juror number nine. I went up and sat in the jurors’ box. Because it’s a fancy new building the jurors’ seats were nice and each even had a flat screen monitor in front of it. The advancement of justice.

We were introduced to the prosecution and defense teams. After that we were then given some details of the case. It would be an armed robbery trial. All twelve of us were asked some general questions (the other 43 potential jurors has to listen too) mainly about if we or any of our immediate family worked for the government or law enforcement. None of the questions had any relevance to me. Nor the other jurors.

After that all twelve of us were asked, one at a time, to state our job, marital status, and what our spouse’s job was if we had one. Then it was time for the lawyers to make their first round of cuts. Each side has six “peremptory challenges” where they can get rid of a juror for no cause. This was the first round of such where the prosecution uses one and the defense two (or that may be reversed I can’t remember). I didn’t survive this round. I guess, “Artist, self employed, and single” wasn’t what they were looking for. It was back to the Honorable Constance Baker Motley Jury Assembly Room for me.

All of this was done by about 11 AM. My time in the court room was maybe half an hour. The whole rest of the day was waiting in the assembly room and not knowing what was going to happen. When I got back to the waiting room they called out another 55 names but I was not among them. I sat there and drew in my drawing book. At noon we broke for lunch so I used a pay phone to call my friend Susan to meet for lunch. She works somewhere down there. We had some sesame noodles and dumplings out in front of the court house (and we both spilled dumpling on our pants). That was the highlight of the day.

At 1:30 it was back inside through jury entrance and the metal detector. I had to empty my pockets, take off my belt and shoes, and run all of it through the X-ray machine. I had to do the same in the morning. Such is how we live now.

Back inside the afternoon was nothing but waiting. No one knew if a judge would call down for a jury. Often the threat of a jury will make parties settle. That’s part of a jury’s job. To threaten with our omnipresentness. I figured that if we didn’t get called by 3:30 we wouldn’t get called. I couldn’t imagine the judge that would try to pick a jury that late in the day. But I had no idea if that meant that we would have to come back on Tuesday. No one did. At least no one that I talked to. The unknown was what created quite a bit of anxiety in the room.

At one point I think I heard one of the people who worked in the room (there is a big raised sort of judge’s bench across the front of the room that people worked behind) say that all of these people (meaning us) were gone. I wasn’t sure of what I heard but I was hopeful to be released so I could catch up on my work. I’m a freelancer. If I don’t do my work I don’t get paid.

At around 4:00 The head Jury Assembly guy got on the microphone and told us we were no longer needed. He thanked us for our time and told us our jury duty was over. We could all go home and we didn’t have to come back. Spatters of applause broke out. Tension was released in the room and smiles were everywhere. I dashed to catch the A train and make my way back home.

All in all not a bad day. I did my civic duty and got some drawing done.


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