Saturday, May 17, 2008


a couple months ago, i received a summons in the mail stating that i had been selected for jury duty. it was a familiar looking envelope as i'd received one around the same time last year, and also the year before that. it would seem that i am the poster boy for the model juror. the first two times, when i called in the night before to check the status and make sure i would still be needed, i was notified that my services would not be required. this time, they were.

first off, when i made my call in the night before, there was an automated message saying they no longer validated parking or provided any discounts for parking. since i had to report to the court of common pleas in the heart of Philadelphia, i would almost certainly have to put my car in a garage, setting me back at least $20 since i had no idea how long i'd have to stay there. i decided the train was a more economical way to go. what could have been a 15 minute drive became a $9 round trip ticket and a 45 minute railroad commute.

i got there 10 minutes early and had to pass through a security checkpoint. my bag went through an x-ray machine as i repeatedly failed to make it past the metal detectors without sounding the alarm. eventually i succeeded only to be pulled aside and reprimanded by the officers for having my cell phone in my bag. they demanded that i check it in at a desk in the lobby. i did so, then went back and set the alarms off another half dozen times.

i was directed to a large room and given a couple forms to fill out. 20 or so yes or no questions to test my impartiality. i filled them out at my seat, sitting amongst at least 200 other annoyed Philadelphians. periodically, a woman went up to a microphone and called out 40 names and sent them off to a civil or criminal trial. in between these announcements, i got to listen to the woman on my left vent her frustrations about civil duties and the fellow on my right poorly crack after everything that came out of the p.a. system. they both eventually got called away for jury panels. my name was never called.

hour 1: i mainly just sat quietly filling out my paperwork and listening for my name.

hour 2: the lady to my left began to get irate and let me know about all the things she's rather be doing. we were also privy to an instructional video about how fill out the forms in case anyone had doubt on how to answer yes or no questions.

hour 3: i got up and walked around the room. i tried to go out in the hallway, just to explore a little bit, but was quickly stopped by a couple boys in blue. i thought it was weird that they had guards posted. i went back to my seat and started reading, secretly devising the most intricate escape plan possible in my head.

hour 4: i read and intermittently gave a chuckle to the guy next to me as he tried to make jokes. i wouldn't have been shocked if he'd have opened his jacket to reveal a spinning, polka-dot bow tie. it was that level of comedic genius.

hour 5: i read. the woman next to me got called for a civil trial. she wasn't happy about it at all since it meant she had to walk all the way to city hall (a block away).

hour 6: i read and sketched. the jokester got called for a trial and told me he was going to tell the judge that he was on anti-psychotics.

hour 7.5: i was given a check for $9 and dismissed. cartwheels through the city's center ensued in celebration of my new found wealth.

honestly, prior to this ordeal, i was a little excited to be a juror (as hard as that may be to believe). i know most people dread the experience. there's something compelling to me about the power of justice. the authority of decision. i do live in a major city which held the record last year for homicides, so i figured that the chances of having an exciting case were in my favor. probably the first time in my life i was really hoping to meet the king of a drug cartel or a serial killer. the anticlimactic disorganization of the day dashed that feeling. the excitement fizzled out entirely around hour five.

i did manage to read an entire book (on a weekday no less), and i enjoyed a free, warm piece of apple spice cake... so, it wasn't a total loss.


Monica said...

Cartwheels! you do cartwheels!

Tim Engelhardt said...

I have never had the opportunity to decide the fate of another individual. After watching "12 Angry Men" (a must see), I want to be selected. I think that I have been lost in the system.