Day one of my federal jury duty was mostly uneventful, and as a result, I’m hopeful that I won’t be called for the rest of the week.
The federal courthouse in Alexandria is a rather new building which, nonetheless, is surrounded by jersey barriers and cones to increase security. You’d think they would have built it with secure access to begin with, wouldn’t ya? That’s one major problem with secure facilities — they’re so ugly. I went through airport-style security, with x-ray and metal detector entry. A large sign at the entrance listed items not allowed, including electronic devices and scissors.
The morning was taken up with gathering everyone together and taking us through a bit of orientation. During the orientation, an elderly man in the front row was making all kinds of noise with his newspaper. I watched for about 10 minutes as, while the clerk spoke, he used a pair of contraband scissors to carefully cut articles out of both USA Today and The Washington Post. He cut out the ads and crumpled them, then cut out the articles and placed them in his bag. I had the dread feeling that security at the courthouse was not very effective.
Finally, one of the clerks asked him to stop and pay attention. It wasn’t until after the orientation that the clerk made the connection that this man had a pair of scissors, which was a prohibited item. She sheepishly tried to approach him, and then another clerk more forcefully made him give up the scissors, to be picked up when he left.
She took them to security and placed them in a locker. When she returned to give the gentleman the key, he asked if he could use his nail clippers now. She looked distressed. It wasn’t a joke. He actually wanted to trim his nails, right there in the jury room while waiting for a call from the courtroom.
Eventually, we were called to the court, where the judge was none other than Leonie Brinkema, who is presiding over the Moussaoui terrorism trial. (Now I have something in common with him — I was questioned by Judge Brinkema, too. But just once. Incidentally, I really liked her. I don’t know why, she just seemed like a great judge. Do a search on her via Google to read a little about a case she presided over that dealt with a certain “religion” which I am reluctant to name because they may raid my home to enforce their “copyright”.)
After about an hour of questioning, 12 people were called to move over to the jury box. (This was about noon. The aforementioned nail clipper told the judge that he had a doctor’s appointment at noon to be followed by surgery tomorrow. She told him he was dismissed immediately. There were a lot of relieved sighs.) Then 8 were told to go back. 8 replaced them. 6 were told to go back. They were replaced, exchanged, removed, added and so on for another half hour or so until the jury was complete. I wasn’t one of them, so — with a certain amount of disappointment — here I am at home at 3pm.
But wait! There’s more! Read on.
The case was about the theft of guns, and the defendant was accused of being a user/dealer of methamphetamine as well. I realize now that I unwittingly disqualified myself from serving because I was truthful, dammit. We were asked about any robberies or thefts that we may have experienced, and I replied that my moped and numerous car radios had been stolen, and that I was robbed at gunpoint at my home (back when I lived in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC). It never occured to me — theft AND gun crime. Yep, I was disqualified right there, I’m sure.
On the up side, I sat right next to an awfully cute guy for much of the time. He looked great in his jeans. I know because I was careful to walk behind him to get to the courtroom.
I was amazed at how many people were wearing jeans and very casual shirts, despite the letter that said to dress “as for an important business meeting.” I was also amazed — as were the clerks — at how many people failed to follow the very simple instructions sent to us. A good number of people did not park in the special lot and special, clearly marked and painted spaces set aside for the jurors. They all had to rush out to their cars and move them before they were towed. Not only did the letter outline where to park, but it included a bright pink parking sticker.
As I sat in the jury room, marvelling at the various simple instructions that seemingly intelligent people could not follow, I began to think about this phenomenon. Is this new? Did people follow instructions better 30 years ago? 50? When I work on materials for our annual teacher’s convention, I write very simple and — I think — easy to follow instructions on how to register, where to go, etc. And yet, there are so many people — teachers, mind you — who ignore the instructions and just barrel forward, getting annoyed when things don’t work like they expected. Just like the people today, who got pissed off as if it was the court clerks who purposely inconvenienced them with their reserved special parking lot.
Day two? Perhaps. But as it turns out, my two week jury period didn’t start with my first day of service, it actually is counted as beginning last week when I was originally scheduled to appear. That means that I have only two days left, surprisingly, and we were told that since we weren’t picked today, it’s unlikely that we’ll be called the rest of the week.
Good news, I suppose. But I was kind of looking forward to being an active citizen.