Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jury Duty Ramblings

It’s always something.
I am, in addition to being a fairly good citizen, one of those warm bodies who actually shows up for jury duty. I live on the eastern edge of the city of San Diego. As such, I’ve learned that it’s possible for me to serve my county court service at the El Cajon courthouse, 10 minutes away, free parking, etc. – much more suited for the likes of me than the “downtown experience.” This time, I received my summons, and didn’t give it much thought – I’d just fall into my accustomed routine.
A couple of days ago, I decided to confirm just when I needed to place my warm body into the jury room, and discovered that this was supplemental jury duty, and that I was to call after 5 p.m., and not before, the night before, to find out whether or not I was to serve. I performed this task flawlessly, even following the automated voice prompting me to press 3 to change the location of my service. Please entertain an empathetic moment for me now, when the resulting recording informed me that a court clerk would be available to take my call after 10 a.m. the following morning, a full two hours and 15 minutes after I was supposed to arrive, downtown. Unfortunately, the difference between being a fairly good citizen and a great citizen is the ability to think like a bureaucrat, not like a consumer. I am a good American, so the consumer-think tends to take precedence. I am not ashamed of this in any way, shape, or form. It just collides with my sensibilities whenever I have to deal with government entities.
So, here I sit, downtown, having made my way to my $10 parking space, a mile away, gone through the County Courthouse scanner to find that the jury room is actually in the building next door now, allowing me to stand in another line to empty my pockets again. I did pare down my backpack to the essentials, and, unlike air travel, did not have to remove my shoes twice, already. I am actually quite grateful for the sense of security.
I have not been downtown in over a year, my last foray was a baseball game. We used to come down here a lot, before the children came. The logistics that once made it an adventure morphs into something different when one has two small children. To be alone, downtown, in the middle of the day, then, is quite unusual for me; a mixed visceral bag of playing hooky and civic pride, fear and curiosity about lifestyles that are not like my own. I resist the urge to look up at the tall buildings like a country bumpkin, but I'm feeling kinda bumpkinesque, this morning.
The speech by Judge Gill, thanking us for serving, is usually the highlight of the morning for me. He goes out of his way to not be condescending, which has the opposite effect on the “common sense” that he praises us for, just a few too many times. I realize that he lives much of his life in a different world than mine; that there are commonalities is the basis of why we are both in the same room, today. The legal system is a bizarre mixture of well-educated people dealing with the missteps of those lacking, well, a lot of different things.
They have announced that we are primarily here for the purposes of filling a four-week trial. Bingo! – my chances of getting out of here by lunchtime have just improved exponentially. As much as I’d like to, I’m prohibited by economics and my employers’ policies from fulfilling said obligation.
I was thinking, just yesterday, about the US of A. Our principles, set down by wealthy, slave-owning land speculators, have probably been stretched (and continue to be), beyond their vision of "freedom" and "equality". I think they believed what they said, I’m kinda shaky on whether or not they meant it for every-every one. Part of what makes me proud to be an American is this struggle that defines us as much as it often threatens to make us self-destruct. Take jury duty, for example. Current methods dictate that we call 200 people to fill a pool of 12-15. The process dilutes us all – at least my sense of importance in the grand scheme of things, inconveniences more than it has to, but does its’ best to provide an ambitious goal. Would I want my transgressions and punishment decided by the elite of San Diego? Not really. I’d rather not have my affairs judged by anyone, actually; I have seen a jury in action, and I think that they serve us well, as judge Gill said, "most of the time." That means not agreeing, but accepting. Pick your favorite example, and OJ don’t count - that’s too easy - no matter what your opinion is.
I know this is rambling, but hey, I’m on jury duty.
(Note: 11:10 – court cancels us all home without calling anyone. Thank you for your service.)
A waste of time? Kinda, but not really. In America, sometimes the process is the thing.