Hi friends. Guess what!? DBG has moved to WordPress. To celebrate 6 glorious weeks of soul-searching freedom, I have built her a new home on a better platform, albeit under a little construction. Also, I’m pretty sure the Tumblr police were about to knock on my door for using up their server space to house my verbose posts. Sigggh of relief!
I’ve missed you guys! I’ve been very busy with nothingness for the sake of greatness, and last week was no exception. I decided to devote my deadbeat hours to the great state of California’s criminal justice system.
Yes, after 8,753 times of moving my jury service back, I decided to actually go, supported by thoughts such as, “you might as well go now before you get a job” and “there is high probability the downtown LA courthouse maintains an address very near a public library in case of emergency”. In days of employed yore, something like going to jury duty without access to email would have sent me into epileptic shock, a state so severe the city probably would have preferred to pay me not to go in order to save on ambulance and related helicopter rescue cost. But, lucky for all of us, and our taxes, I am pretty much open to anything now, so I settled on getting this out of the way. One more reschedule and I’m certain we would have been receiving DBG updates from the LA county jail. And no one wants that. Although that could be both dangerous and interesting…
It took me close to 2 hours to arrive at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, and instead of arriving promptly at 7:45am, I appeared, irritated, slightly intimidated by the new Mexico “side street route” I had just traveled through, and ultimately frazzled at 8:30am. Ugh. I grabbed my juror badge, placed it on my lapel and dragged my feet to what resembled a hospital waiting room with skabillions of other potential jurors and radical fluorescent lighting. Everyone looked at least as uninterested in being there as I, with way less English-speaking ability. So I considered myself at least lucky to understand this mess.
The next few hours were unremarkable, save for the ridiculously unaware man seated next to me, pending our instruction. If Gary Shandling and Andre the Giant were to create a child, he would have been the gentle giant next to me, shouting into a tiny device I assumed was a cell phone. I began to day-dream of ways to tape his mouth shut and throw the cell phone at one of my English-second-language friends, (which in hindsight would have been a terrible idea considering I could be arrested, tried and convicted in this very building), when I heard my name being called… “Allistair Vanderson”. Hmm. Close enough. I am now in fact assigned to a courtroom, and will not be going home at 4pm. Great. This is a complete suck festival. Don’t they know I have nothing to do after this?
Some while later, a lady came out and yelled our names again, and I became…da-nana-nah-nanaaa: Juror #45. Ok, I thought. At least I’m a little more sophisticated than those lepers in the waiting room. I have a number! And a badge, and a judge, and a case.
We lined up in order from 1-55 and filed in. By this time I am intrigued, much the same as my reaction to the La Brea Tar Pits. What is this strange, juror selection process about? How big is that giant seal above the judge’s head? Is our case sort of like Mark’s mom’s trial in Orange County for a lady who didn’t pay her BMW bill? I hope not.
Well friends, what happened next was a magnificent change in my temperature. The judge entered, regally sitting down to claim residence over his court. He calmly began to address his wide-eyed congregation (he was almost irritatingly kind and explanatory, like we were all kindergarteners, however a method I would come to appreciate), and I became entranced immediately. Judge Sam Ohta spent 30 minutes explaining the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government, the changes and advancements of the jury selection process in California, our duties as responsible jurors, and mostly that no matter what the state does, people will always bitch [he didn’t use that word exactly], making his job more difficult. Oh and a bit about our case, and that the law states just because someone is in a gang we can’t assume he’s a murderer. Phfff I knew that.
I was instantly on his side and wanted to be his friend. How could people complain about this? This is our duty! This is a privilege! This is terrifying, I think he said this was a murder trial. I quickly shoved that thought aside and decided to dive head first into unbridled joy for the California penal code and learning how to get onto this jury.
After Judge Ohta’s beautifully relayed rendition of our civic responsibilities, his next step was to ask all 55 of us if we saw any reason we could not respectfully and impartially give the defendant a fair trial, due to circumstances related to our life experiences.
Here are a few of the reasons the judge was provided. For real.
- “your honor, my cousin’s nephew got shot in the face and had to be on trial for 2 weeks. I just don’t think emotionally I can go through a case like this.” [skinny skater kid sitting right next to me]
- “I am not smart enough.” [Mexican Jahovah’s witness]
- “My da-tah (daughter) got DUI buh she did NAH mean tew.” [Very sweet Chinese man. Barely understandable. Basically he said he hates cops because his daughter drank and drive, was arrested, but really did not mean it*. *no disrespect to Chinese Americans; this is merely for effect.]
There are so many more but I’ll save them. Now, I encourage any and all of you to TRY and get asked to this particular judge’s courtroom, by virtue of the brilliant way he eyebrow raised, poked at and questioned each and every one of these responses. Mind you, the purpose of this exercise is to “sniff out” people who may inadvertently give the defendant an unfair trial in his courtroom, but not to let people go arbitrarily just because they need an adult diaper change. Otherwise, according to him, he would never have a jury. Not ever.
Considering the caliber of replies by my fellow jurors, married with my deep-seeded people pleasing trait clawing its way to the top of my thoughts, I became transfixed with anger and embarrassment. I wanted to shout, PICK ME! Don’t listen to them! More importantly, do not include me in their webs of deceit and lies!
The next day, emboldened by my curiosities and confident that I was the perfect juror for the job, I awoke 3 hours too early, so excited I could barely think straight. What would happen today? Do I need a tweed hat and smoking pipe? Isn’t that OJ Simpson’s courtroom next door to us? [it was]. The history, the excitement, the joy!
Waiting to be filed into court, I decided that if the judge, prosecutor or defense attorney questioned my conviction to this process that I should be ready. Here are a few notes I prepared just in case:
- One of my most favorite short films from school is How a Bill Becomes a Law by Schoolhouse Rock, featuring “Bill”, a delicate, loosely scrolled piece of paper with legs and a patriotic red belt, who dances and sings for the sole benefit of teaching young eventual contributing citizens, the intricacies of our government systems. I think this alone should launch me into seat 1-12. Easily.
- I have floss with me at all times and have been known to use it at red lights only, indicating a dedication to both personal hygiene and traffic laws.
- I love school supplies, and will if permissible by the court, record any and every detail of the case using the latest and greatest equipment.
- I love gangs, tv shows about gangs, documentaries about gangs and anything to do with the chronicling of their hierarchical propensities and dead-on representation of human nature. I have nothing against them (I mean except the killing of innocent people part; that part could be adjusted a little I think).
- This peculiar little process has ignited my fascination and interest for the preservation of justice, and if I don’t get picked I may nearly faint with heartache.
Shortly after my list was near completion, my day in court had arrived. It was time to give the required “biographical information”. The judge called #43, and next was me, #45. (Juror #44 was dismissed due to his alleged reckless emotional state, after his best friend’s cousin witnessed his mother’s sexual assault and burglary by an entire gang, a tale that came out rounds and rounds after we began. Questionable if you ask me.)
My heart raced with excitement. I cannot WAIT to have other questions asked of me, thereby improving my chances of securing a seat behind the bench.
“Hi. (no one else said, “hi” to the court; why did I do that!? idiot. lock it up.)
Just moved to Manhattan Beach. Not married. Work in advertising. No prior jury experience. I love you, and also justice!” (Just kidding, I didn’t say that last part. Well I could have. I most definitely was thinking it.)
“Thank you. Juror #46?”
Ugh. That doesn’t seem like a good sign. Maybe he knows I’m not working right now! Maybe my hair is too blonde and my eyes are too blue!? I knew I should have worn a wig today. Damnit.
Eventually the jury was selected; much to my chagrin the prosecution and defense were happy with the 12th juror early enough they didn’t need to keep going. The rest of us got to go home.
On the drive, far far drive back home, I lamented on this experience and why it was so fascinating to me. And I decided that the past few weeks have changed my mind. Virtually and literally it has changed to be more open, to understand possibility and new experience that can be great even when I don’t expect it. When we are able to truly experience anything, even the most mundane of circumstances can excite us. They can make us feel part of a larger story, one that can be told over and over. Even if it’s something that in my family has been labeled “jury doodie”. Well not anymore. I am hooked.
I hope this week you find a new experience that changes your mind and opens your heart. All you have to do is let it.