Letters From the Editor
Juror No. 4
Nonetheless, I decided that jury duty was an experience I wanted. Sure, I’ve seen the movies, I’ve watched The Practice, I know that’s not really what it’s like. But it’s still an important job, and I wanted to do my part. It seemed like it could be fun. It seemed like an honor, if you stretched your optimism far enough. It seemed like it would be a good thing.
That is, until I got there.
Show up at the King’s County Court at 8:45 in the morning. Be prompt, I had understood. Oh, I was there. But not everyone was. There were a few hundred of us, packed into an auditorium with wooden benches. No air conditioning (and this on the first truly ‘warm’ day of spring in New York). They played a video that featured Ed Bradley praising all of us for our conscientiousness on our decision to serve our public duty. Thanks, Ed. Stragglers entered. Some an hour – an hour??!? – late. Wait, why’d I make sure to set the alarm early? To print out a map of the area? To pack a novel?
Around the room were posted signs again applauding us for being jurors. That we were special. That we were good people for doing this thing that everyone lies to get out of doing. And that they valued us for being these kind of people. Which is why they shoehorn us into a hotbox with wooden seats. A modest proposal: Get plush couches, a stereo system, and a breakfast stand in there.
And so I waited, waited, waited for them to call my name. I waited four hours. I passed out once. I played twelve games of Battleship on my cell phone.
I stood up to wake up and grabbed a brochure that informed me that because the Brooklyn court system was so busy, there was little chance that I wouldn’t be picked as a juror. Wonderful. Maybe the courtroom is better appointed. I went back to my seat and plopped down, dejected.
Finally, they cued me. I rose, entered another room along with my fellow prospective jurors, and sat in a smaller version of my earlier nightmare. No airflow, stuffy, and plastic (!) benches. Once we were all inside a court clerk followed us to take attendance. ‘Andrew Womack?’ ‘Here.’ He made a notation on his clipboard. ‘Nancy [first name changed] Womack?’ ‘Here.’ The clerk looked up. I looked over at Nancy. She looked over at me. We’re both Womacks! ‘Cool,’ we seemed to agree. She’s black, I’m white. The clerk certainly noted this, as he quipped, ‘Well, I guess you two aren’t related!’ Nancy and I looked at each other, then both glared at the clerk.
The attorneys entered the room to begin the jury selection. First up was the prosecuting attorney, who started out by thanking all of us for showing up and then launched into a detailed description of the process of selection, the court proceedings, and what our responsibilities would be overall. He then assigned us seats. ‘Okay, Andrew Womack? You’re juror number four. Let’s see, Nancy Womack?’ He looks at both of us. ‘Oh, I guess you two aren’t related!’ My eyes are rolling. I’m sure hers were too.
He then began the grilling. Well, it wasn’t intense enough to be called that.
‘So, what’s your favorite TV show?’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘What about a book or something?’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘Well, a magazine or a book or whatever.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘Have you ever been involved in any litigation? Like, you, a friend, family member?’ ‘Really?’ ‘Okay ’
Okay, ‘Andrew Womack? Okay. So, if you were to watch television, what would it be that you’d watch if you were to choose something?’
‘What, like a specific program?’
‘Well, sure, or just whatever. You know, maybe a kind of program, like, say, entertainment?’
(What?) ‘Um, comedy?’
‘So, if you were to be selected for this jury and you were to enter the courtroom, hear the case, and decide that my client – that is, the plaintiff – were in the right, that is, that they had won their case or that, so to speak, they’d ‘won,’ would you have a problem either with or with not awarding my client – the plaintiff – an adequate, reasonable, justifiable damages – that is, what they’d get, that is, what they win for having their case proven? For winning? Would you have a problem doing or not doing that?’
‘No, I mean yes, I mean – ’
Honestly, he’d confused me. My mind was wandering somewhere in his question. And my version of his question surely isn’t accurate. It couldn’t be. He’d totally lost me on his line of questioning. He lost me, plain and simple. So I wasn’t sure what to answer. So I did. And then I put my foot in it. And had, unknowingly, just dismissed myself.
After the prosecuting attorney finished with all of us, the defense attorney stood up and began his questioning. He went through each of us one by one, clarifying certain points. ‘Andrew Womack? Would you have a problem with the duties of juror?’
‘No.’ I was sure of the question this time.
‘Nancy Womack?’ He looks over at me, looks back at her. ‘Well, I guess you two aren’t related!’
Wait wasn’t he in the room earlier? HE HEARD THE JOKE BEFORE DAMMIT! Ah, he was probably unable to follow what his colleague was saying too. Ah, okay.
The attorneys had us step out of the room for ten minutes so they could decide who would be dismissed. When we returned I’d barely sat down when I was told I had been cut.
‘Andrew Womack? You’ve been dismissed.’
‘It was interesting.’
‘Why thank you.’