LANDLUBBER APRIL, 1998


OUTSIDE LINKS
  Orange County
Dr. Dre
Compton
The American Jury System

 

PICTURES
  Los Angeles County Courts Building
  "Monument to Justice" (mosaic), courthouse exterior
  "The Juror" (mosaic), courthouse exterior

 

TWO WEEKS IN COMPTON

I am a citizen of the United States.

On December 15, I got a summons from the Los Angeles County Superior Court to appear as a juror on December 22. Not only was this a mere week away and three days before Christmas, but I had already booked a flight to New York City on the 20th and wasn't returning until the 3rd of January. Needless to say, I called up their number, and through the same computerized technology used by Movie-Fone, I bloodlessly deferred my start date to January 26th.

While I live in Long Beach, well within the cosmopolitan confines of Los Angeles County, I work in the suburbia of Orange County, home of Disneyland, the Crystal Cathedral, and No Doubt. My jury service required, more or less, 10 days of physically showing up at the courthouse, which gave my boss a real headache since in O.C., if you aren't selected for a case the first day your service is complete. Moreover, my service was at the courthouse in Dr. Dre's hometown of Compton. While most of my friends from school thought this was pretty cool, the reactions of my co-workers from behind the Orange Curtain involved considerably more consternation.

*  *  *

On entering the courthouse on the first day I first encountered the world's most sensitive metal detectors. Not only were they set off by the change in my pocket and my wristwatch, but the guards would even order me to remove my belt before allowing me through on those unfortunate days when I forgot not to wear one.

The jury waiting room was on the second floor, and jurors and other ordinary citizens were forbidden from using the stairs. Waiting ten minutes or more for an open elevator just to get down to the ground floor for lunch was not uncommon.

The population of the jury waiting room, my home away from home for ten working days, was about 300. The wonder of the jury system is that you get such a wonderful cross-section of people in one big room together with nothing to do but read, play cards, sleep, watch TV, do jigsaw puzzles, and wait. While Compton and its immediate vicinity is almost exclusively black or Latino, prospective jurors hailed from all over the South Bay region, making the jury room a healthy blend of many races.

*  *  *

As I began to fill out the forms during juror orientation, I met the man who would become the most constant fixture of my jury service, Mr. Cody Moore. After he initiated conversation by borrowing a pen from me, I made my first attempt at avoiding conversation with him by informing him that I had spent the previous day shopping and going to the library rather than watching the Super Bowl. I quickly realized that the only real way to keep from talking with this guy was for one or the other of us to get placed onto a jury panel and thus be barred by law from being in the same room.

I could spend the next four pages telling you details about Cody's life, but I'll spare you. No detail escaped Cody Moore. He would start the day by informing me of things like, "I parked on the third floor today," and continue in a similar fashion. Within two days he tried to set me up with his girlfriend's best friend. I never gave her a call, not out of lack of desire, but because I did not envy a future in which I was indebted to this guy. Early in the second week, he invited me to go out drinking with his buddies for his roommate's birthday the day after our last day of service. I came up with a vague excuse.

*  *  *

The way jury duty works, at least in LA County, is that you sit in the waiting room until a voice from on high wakes you from your slumber by announcing the names on the next panel of potential jurors. Once on a panel, you go up to your courtroom, where jury selection begins. If you don't end up on the final jury, you go back down to the waiting room and start the process over. During the course of the two weeks, I got called onto four panels, but never actually served on a jury.

My first panel came early on the second day. The defendant in this case had a whopping eleven charges against him, one of which was robbery, and the other ten of which were various forms of forcible rape, forcible sodomy, forcible oral copulation, and forcible insertion of a foreign object into the genital or rectal area. Obviously, somebody was in a heap of trouble. I became Juror Number Three on the panel. We all had to tell the courtroom about our area of residence, occupation, marital status, and any encounters with crime or law enforcement. When I mentioned that all of my clothes were once stolen in Hawaii, the judge said, "Ah, but it was Hawaii; you didn't need them," to which I responded that I just wandered around naked for the rest of the trip. That seemed to break the ice a bit in the courtroom as we all enjoyed a chuckle. Even the defendant, Mr. Forcible Sodomy, laughed. Not too long after, I was kicked off by the defense in a peremptory challenge.

Later that day I was called up for my second case, which proved to be substantially less interesting. This was a personal injury lawsuit being brought by a woman who had apparently tripped on some stuff left around by some people installing a new sewer. Not only was she suing the county agency in charge, the construction contractors, and the property owner, in front of whose rental units the sewer was being installed, but she was representing herself. I do not recommend this. She was up against two lawyers who, while by no means slick, at least exhibited signs that they actually argued cases in court professionally. The poor plaintiff was disorganized, talked slowly, and actually used the phrase, "Now if I could only read my notes" at one point. She booted me off that case. I'm not really sure what she was looking for in a juror.

While sitting on panels and listening to the other jurors give their profiles, I was struck by the notion that it seemed like everyone there was either a government employee, retired, an aerospace worker, or some combination of the three. Ahh, now that's America. The third case I was called up for was settled without a jury. On the fourth, a robbery case, I didn't actually get called into the jury box.

Despite the fact that if you were going to be on a case past the number of days your job would pay you, you had a valid excuse to be dismissed, you were still required to show up at the courthouse through the very last day of your service. This does not strike me as being very efficient.

And so my service ended with a whimper. I didn't get on a case. I spent the last three or four days knowing that even if I did get called onto a jury, I would be excused due to an economic hardship. The literature I scrounged up on voting your conscience on juries didn't come into play. I didn't get on a drug case, and I didn't get to free the black man. Oh well. At least I got a lot of reading done.

--Adam

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