Thursday, July 12, 2007

Close Calls

I was ordered to report to the Los Angeles County Superior Court Building in Downtown Los Angeles today for jury duty.

I spent many a Saturday in this building while in high school attending Junior Statesmen conferences -- but I don't think I've been inside it for over 25 years. (Hasn't changed much.)

I was pretty excited when my name was called for a jury pool at 9:30 in the morning because I was really dreading sitting around all day. That's until I found out the trial I was up for was expected to last for 50 days!

I spent the next two hours practicing how I'd tell my employer I'd be back in October.

Once in the courtroom I was really impressed by Judge Victoria Gerard Chaney's command of the room. She was firm but kind at the same time. After sharing information on the schedule for the trial she asked for a show of hands from the 75 assembled potential jurors of folks who could participate in the trial with no hardship. About 30 hands went up. They were asked to leave the room to fill out a potential juror questionnaire.

One by one, the 40 of us left had to stand and address the judge explaining why we couldn't participate in this jury.

One excuse came from a JPL engineer responsible for testing equipment to prepare for an October missile launch. I guess in his case it really does take a rocket scientist.

Another juror explained he worked in a two-man shop and the other employee was scheduled to take a vacation that would overlap with the trial. The judge asked for the name of the "two-man shop." The juror replied, "the U.S. Air Force." After chuckling the judge said she'd never thought of the Air Force quite that way.

I explained I worked for a small company with ongoing responsibility for various clients and a planned trip to represent a client at an important conference. The judge asked what sort of a business I worked for. I replied, "a political consulting firm." When the judge asked for the name of the firm I said, "Woodward & McDowell, but we don't do judicial campaigns, Your Honor." At least I got a smile.

The best exchange was when a potential juror said she had an upcoming trip to Tibet. The judge said, "how lovely, are you visiting Kathmandu?" The juror looked confused for a moment and then said, "No, Your Honor, Kathmandu is in Nepal. Lhasa is the capital of Tibet." The judge smiled and said she was always bad with geography, but no doubt believed the juror really was going to Tibet.

After interviewing all 40 potential jurors seeking to be excused we were asked to leave the courtroom and wait in the hallway. Ten minutes later the bailiff told us we were all excused and were to return to the Jury Assembly Room to see if we were assigned elsewhere.
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