Grand Jury, Part I

This is my first jury duty stint and I was pretty anxious about it. This is unsurprising, as I am anxious about everything. I like to know exactly what I'm getting myself into. I want to get all the rules straight, I want to know what the protocol is. I don't want to wander around all confused or show up in the wrong room or I DON'T KNOW WHAT. I don't like not knowing where the ladies' room in a restaurant is. Where they are paid to be nice to you. What if I get lost and pee in the kitchen? Before I even leave my seat I demand a map or detailed reassurance from the waitstaff. (I am always their favorite.) So the idea of going somewhere where overworked, embittered city employees would be barking orders at me (I guessed) and maybe I'd do something wrong and they'd be all MA'AM. MA'AM, THAT DOOR IS FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY MA'AM. And everyone would stare at me, the Jerk who Doesn't Know How Doors Work, and then I would pee myself. (Apparently many of my anxiety-fueled fantasies involve pee.)

What has been unexpectedly delightful about jury duty is how 1) so many other people totally disregard any of the rules or standards of behavior, and how 2) utterly accustomed to this the staff is. I mean, the attorneys seem perky enough, but the court wardens all have this expression you can only get from listening to the same stupid-ass question you've answered a trillion times that day. They're done being annoyed. They all have these kindly exhausted faces that seem to imply that if you peed yourself in front of them (there I go again) they'd only sigh and gently remind you that peeing should only occur in designated pee-places and to please not pee again anywhere but in the designated pee-places. And then the juror next to you would pee herself, just for the hell of it. Just because she's annoyed that you got to do it and she didn't! Why should you get all the fun?

So although I'm exhausted, I'm enjoying myself. The hours may be long (I did not expect 10-11 hour days, I'll tell you what), the endless cases may be pretty damn depressing, but this is people watching at its finest. Where else can I get this? Usually my interaction with humans I am not related to or friends with is limited to school pickup and the occasional chit-chat at the gym, coffee shop, or with a fellow dog owner. Now I am wading in humanity! Awesome, terrible humanity!

Before I get started with this, because no one I talk to seems to know: "grand jury" does not mean "super-fantastic jury." In a grand jury, you hear many cases, and in each one you vote whether or not each case is going to go to a court. So you wait around until an assistant district attorney comes in and presents you with a case, you hear testimony, you vote, bam, next one. There's no judge in the room. Which, to the more vocal of my fellow jurors, seems to mean THE RULES DO NOT COUNT.

Also, unlike a regular old jury, no one is dismissed at the outset. NO ONE. There's no getting out because "this case is about a car theft and I'm married to a car" or "I don't trust the police and also I think my dog speaks human talk straight to my brain." Everyone's in. So imagine how many different brands of lunatics can show up in any given grand jury. Lucky for me, I've got them all! (At least the harmless kinds. I hope.)

I love my nutball fellow jurors, I really do. Sure, plenty of the others are thoughtful and brimming with mental health, but how can I write about them? I'd rather tell you about the kooks. Oh, my friends, I want to kiss them on their adorable mouths! From whence the crazy sounds come!

Anyway, as I was saying, I think a judge would put these goofs in their respective places, but that would be no fun, and neither the assistant district attorneys nor the court wardens seem especially keen on laying down the law (so to speak) when it comes to appropriate behavior.

For instance: cell phone conversations. During testimony. You would think that would be frowned upon, yes?

Oh, it is. AND YET! On the first day, a phone rings during testimony. It belongs to a juror behind me, an elderly lady who has spent most of our down time between cases snoring so hard I'm afraid she has apnea and might pass away. A witness is on the stand, and this juror's phone goes bonkers. Not only does it ring, it rings LOUDLY and with VERVE. She loves her Broadway showtune ringtone her grandnephew programmed on her phone, and damned if she's not going to enjoy it when it rings!

Listen, we've all forgotten to turn off our ringer at one time or another, right? (Actually I haven't. See above re: scared of getting yelled at.) So she pulls out her phone, at which point of course it's only louder, is in fact almost deafening in its Broadway show-tuniness. But does she turn it off? Does she?

Oh, no. She answers it. Yes. While everyone is staring at her. She answers it.

At this point I am practically hiding under my chair just thinking about how much anxiety I would have about committing such a sin. There is a sign outside the courtroom that commands us not to use our cell phones during testimony, and I am pretty sure this means cell-phone use means we will all be officially Shunned from polite society from now until the end of our days. 

Everyone is staring at her. The Assistant District Attorney is gobsmacked. On the other end, a man is shouting that he can't hear her. How do we know this? Because she has the phone ON SPEAKERPHONE.

"I can't talk right now," she says. "I'm on a jury. I'm in the court. Yes. Here. In the court. I can't talk. I'll call you later." She spends almost thirty seconds describing how poor a time it is to converse. "What? WHAT?" the man is bellowing. The poor ADA is trying to tell her to turn it off. The entire jury is shouting at her to turn it off. Except for me. I'm trying to claw through the floor of the jury box with my bare hands, to escape the shame.

Here's the truly glorious part of this: you would think she would have learned her lesson. BUT NO. Later that day, she did it again. AGAIN. The whole thing. Broadway showtune, speakerphone, guy yelling, her telling him she couldn't talk, everyone shouting, me floor-digging.

But wait! Here's the even more glorious part, the part where all the angels sang in unison. This part occurred on the second day. When, oh Lord in heaven, she did it again. She did it again twice. All the same elements. Broadway, speaker, guy, her, everyone shouting. The third time, she chatted while the ADA and two court wardens berated her. It was a spectacle that went from being mortifying by association to impressive. That third time, I managed to remain sitting upright. (Although I did hide my head in my hands, thus rendering me invisible.) By the fourth time, I was giggling into my court notebook. Would she do it again? I was beginning to get excited about it!

On the third day, some of the other jurors made her promise she would turn off her phone, and either she did or that guy (her grandnephew?) gave up trying to chat with her. I have to say, I was disappointed. Her rule-flouting was turning out to be better than therapy for me. I think I want Phone Lady to become my guru. She seems awfully happy. Although I can't say I care for her choice of ringtones.