Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Rolls Royce 9

I've been on jury duty.  Five and a half days, in all.  It was an experience.  
The case should not have come to trial.  Everyone seemed to agree on that.  We weren't deciding anyone's guilt or fault.  We were going to decide damages.  
In October 2010, an attorney that lived in the Bunker Hill complex in downtown Los Angeles, where his office was also located, had his car parked in the downstairs garage.  His car is a 1985 Rolls Royce Camargue.  It was the first Rolls Royce to be designed by someone outside of the company, an Italian car designer named Paolo Martin.  Only 400 or so were built.  
On that "fateful night," one of his neighbors, a man who ran an import business specializing in Korean beer and food, drove home after a week long business trip to Korea.  He stopped in Korea Town to eat at a client's restaurant.  Someone drove his car back to his building for him.  He decided to park it himself.  
He hit his neighbors Rolls Royce in its parking stall.  He pushed it against a concrete support pillar, bending the frame.  
The insurance company for the neighbor that hit the car sent a check within a week.  But it didn't cover the estimate the owner received from the shop where it was being repaired.  Things got personal.  Both sides dug in.  We had to decide what was fair. 
"We" being the Rolls Royce 9.  
Not the Rolls Royce 12, you may notice.  At the end of the first week, five out of the fourteen people selected wrote notes to the judge and got themselves excused.  That's a sign of how things were going.  The judge told the nine of us that didn't write notes that we had to stick it out to the end.  
I could go on about the trial itself, but then I would be putting you through the same thing I went through, and I'm not a vindictive person by nature.  Well...  Actually, I am, but since the odds are that you, whomever is reading this blog, haven't done anything against me personally, I won't take it out on you.  
What I will do is present some of what I learned from the experience.  The first of which was this: 
Everyone has a "sure-fired" way of getting out of jury duty
The first thing most people said to me when I told them I'd received my jury summons was something like, "You wanna know how to get out of it?"  The answers are legion.  
One I heard from someone waiting in line to get into the courthouse the first day was, "Tell them it's against your religious beliefs to judge someone.  That you believe only God can judge people and that you are not God."  
One of my fellow potential jurors must have been behind me in line, because when asked that was almost exactly what he said.  "My spiritual beliefs don't allow me to judge people."  
The judge replied, "But in this trial you're not judging anyone.  You're determining an award amount."  
The guy was excused by the defense anyway.  
I found one good excuse online after the trial was over.  In a online news article about excuses for jury duty, it relayed one woman's attempt to get out of sitting on a murder trial.  When they asked if she knew anyone who had been the victim of crime, she told the court that she herself had been a murder victim.  
When the judge questioned her on that, asking if she was "sure" she'd been a murder victim, her answer was, "I got better."  
I'll call that the Monty Python excuse.  
Other advice on this topic given to me included asking the court to provide an interpreter.  Even if I spoke English, they are required by law to do so, and the annoyance will make them get rid of you.  
Another friend suggested I tell them that I thought the whole legal system was built on lies.  The defense would tell their lies.  The plaintiffs would tell their lies.  I would then make my decision on what I thought were the most creative lies.  
My dad told me a good one, years ago.  He was a potential juror on a criminal case.  He made a point of staring at the accused.  When the accused caught my dad, a big ex-marine, staring at him, my dad drew his finger across his throat in a cutting motion.  
The accused pointed my dad out to his lawyer.  My dad got excused.  At least that what he told us happened.  
I can tell you, from personal experience, that it is not as easy to get out of jury duty as some people think.  At least not in L.A. County.  During the selection process I realized that the defense firm was a client of my company.  I raised my hand at an appropriate moment and pointed this out to the judge and the counsels.  
Their reaction was something like.  Yeah.  Ok.  Fine.  

Every day on jury duty is like the first day at a bad job
You have these people you're spending six hours a day with.  You don't know them.  They don't know you.  But unlike work, you don't talk with them about the thing that brought you together.  In fact, your admonished not to.  This leads to a lot of conversations that go something like...
"Hey.  How's it going?"  
"Fine.  And you?"  
"Yeah, fine."  They stretch their arms out and yawn.  "Just trying to stay awake."  
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
Eventually you do start to talk, about what you do for a living, where you go on your hour and a half lunch break, hobbies and such.  But you always have this...  THING, that you're talking around.  Something everyone knows about, but no one dare mention.  
That is, until it's time to deliberate.  Then I learned...
Jurors in deliberation laugh.  They laugh a lot
The bailiff that took charge of us once the trial was over warned us about waiting until she closed the door before we started laughing.  
Laughing?  We looked at each other.  Even though it sounded weird to us, I could see smiles creeping up on everyone's faces. 
Yeah, she assured us.  Sometimes juries laugh so hard and loud, the counsels can hear them through the doors, which are meant to be sound proof.  Like they're having a party in there.  Rarely, juries get into fights and she has to break them up and make sure no one is hurt.  But mostly, they laugh.  
She recalled a jury she served with last year.  They hit the buzzer to call her in.  When she entered the jury, it was empty.  Knowing there were only so many places one could hide, she went to check the restrooms.  She found all fourteen jurors stuffed in the women's restroom.  One of them, a professional photographer, set up a camera to catch her reaction when she opened the door.  They busted out laughing after yelling "Surprise!"
This was after a six week criminal trial.  
We didn't do anything like that, but we laughed together.  Once in the jury room EVERYONE starts talking.  Even the most quiet person that didn't say a peep to anyone during trial.  You feel like you are rushing from the school on the last day before summer vacation.  They all have something to say about what they saw or heard during the trial.  And everything makes you laugh.  
Eventually, though, you get down to business.  And that's when I learned...
Common sense is more common than I might have thought.
During the trial, even though we never spoke about specifics, we did say to each other, "This isn't going to take long to decide."  I said it as well, on a few occasions that week.  
In the back of my mind, though, I wondered if my fellow jurors saying the same thing maybe, possibly, might be seeing things differently.  I was afraid that we might find ourselves stuck over some principle, or just out of stubbornness as the parties had done.  
It didn't happen.  
Someone noticed that I took notes in two colors, blue for plaintiff questions, black for defense.  That impressed everyone enough to pick me to be the presiding juror.  
While waiting for the official forms and exhibit books to arrive, we started talking.  By the time they brought the stuff to us, we had eighty percent of it decided.  Even when opinions differed, it seemed that both sides had good points and were willing to listen.  
By the time we were done, everyone was in agreement on all the points.  No one was rushing just to get it done.  We were doing a job and doing it as best we could.
We buzzed twice, the signal a decision had been reached.  We went back out and sat in our chairs.  The clerk read off the form I filled out as Presiding Juror.  The defense had us polled.  Each 9-0 decision was recorded.  We were done before lunch.
When we went outside, the attorneys for both sides followed us out.  They shook our hands.  They asked us questions about their presentation, about what mattered to us.  They thanked us for sticking it out.  Neither side wanted a mistrial forcing them to start all over again.  The judge had mentioned they might want to do this.  I thought it unlikely, only if the losing side thought we'd screwed up.  But the curiosity seemed genuine and the gratitude felt sincere.  
And then, they were gone.  After shaking one of the attorney's hand and watching him start to walk away, I looked around and found myself standing alone.  I caught up with a couple other of my fellow jurors on the way to the assembly room to get their certificates of completion.  Another was already there in line.  As we separated at the entrance, I said, "See ya."  Then wondered, "When?"  
I can not say I enjoyed my jury service.  My life still feels displaced.  It feels like 'normal' isn't the same normal anymore.  Whether it's a good or bad thing...?  The jury is still out. 
The members of the Rolls Royce 9 are: 
Mark - A retired police officer, whose wife was one as well.  They like to bike down the coast and take the train back to their home.  He spent every lunch break at the cafeteria on the top floor, the Panorama Cafe, looking at the view. 
Omega - Her name comes from being the last of four children.  She went to Julliard to study singing, a soprano.  She's sung the National Anthems at the Montreal Forum in Canada and at Dodgers' Stadium.  
Daniel - The youngest juror, I would guess.  Knew the most about cars amongst the rest of us.
Tray - Tall guy.  Was questioned a lot about a hit and run accident he mentioned during jury selection.  Sat apart from others during our breaks.  First time I saw him smile was when he arrived the day we deliberated.  
Blanca - Worked nights in a sewing shop I believe she said, and came to court in the morning.  Always arrived right before we had to start.
Eddie - Flamboyant dresser.  Two-tone hair, blonde on top and black along the sides.  Wore hats.  Came to court once with a bow tie made of little teddy bears sewn together.  
Michele - Lives somewhere in Pasadena, like me.  On her breaks she went to places like the L.A. Cathedral and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art).  Conversations with her were often about understanding things.
Lizza - Quiet lady with long black hair.  Works in a bank, overseeing the tellers. 
And me.  
To my fellow members of the Rolls Royce 9, I wish you all the best in whatever trials life brings your way.  


Post a Comment

<< Home