So help me God

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‘The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: jury duty in New York City’

Excuses, excuses. This week I’m late because I have to keep chasing a darned turkey out of my yard. Sorry if some of you out there like turkeys in your yards; not me. They leave too many ‘gifts’, if you get my drift.

Anyway. On to this week’s story. Which is about jury duty in New York. Now before you start yawning, let me assure you that it can be pretty darned fascinating. For one thing, they changed the rules a few years ago so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — gets out of serving. So it’s quite possible that you can find yourself killing time doing the crossword in a big ole waiting room with the likes of Madonna or Sir Paul or maybe even The Donald back when he lived in New York (But wait; He still does live in New York. But I don’t think he does the crossword.)

Used to be that you could get out of serving if you had a little kid at home, were a doctor, or owned your own business. (Check all three boxes for The Dude; now that those exceptions have been eliminated, he has to serve and it drives him nuts. He thinks up all kinds of “you may be excused” answers to their questions, like “Yes” to “Do you believe that everyone who is tried in this court is implicitly guilty?” and it just makes the lawyers love him all the more. He almost always gets picked.)

I get picked a lot, too. I like to think there’s something reassuringly fair-minded about my appearance. Or maybe I just look (depending on whose side you’re on) like a) I’ll get their guy off or b) I’ll say “lock him up and throw away the key”. We Midwesterners can be oh-so-confusingly poker-faced when we want to be.

I’ve lived here in New York City since the late 70s, so I’ve been called for jury duty often, and have many a tale to tell — from service on both criminal and civil cases. Like, there was this workmen’s comp case where a guy was suing the City of New York because he got hurt on the job. He was a police officer, and he had been chasing a bad guy. We jurors were like “Hmmm…isn’t that sort of part of the deal if you’re a policeman?” 

The daunting facade of 100 Centre Street, where the Jury Magic happens, Criminal Court version

Another time I was on a criminal jury — it was a guns-and-drugs case — and actually got sequestered. If you don’t want to click to see a definition of ‘sequestering’, basically it means that, if the jury doesn’t reach a verdict the first day, you have to stay together in a hotel every night until you do.

Now this might sound sort of glamorous and exciting. Stay in a hotel in New York City! For free! With meals and everything! But this was a seen-better-days, full-of-grubby-backpackers-in-sandals-and-socks Holiday Inn on the pre-glam, pre-High-Line West Side. We were taken there in a van, assigned a room with a (thank god) same-sex fellow jury member, served ‘dinner’ at a serves-twelve-size table (no, you could not order what you wanted), then locked in for the night. Honest. There was a guard stationed outside every door (I looked), and, to add insult to injury, the TVs were fixed so they wouldn’t work. We couldn’t bring in a newspaper, so we couldn’t even do the crossword. (This was all so we wouldn’t be ‘influenced’ or ‘tainted’.)

Well. Let me tell you that the one holdout, who happened to be my roommate, stopped holding out the very next day. Maybe she didn’t like the cut of my jammies.

Some of my favorite jury duty memories, though, are of the times I did not get picked. Once it was a civil case where this dentist was being sued. They asked if any of us had a reason we didn’t think we could be fair and impartial, and I raised my hand and said, “He’s my dentist.” The first thing I did after being excused was find a new dentist.

Another time this guy was suing three different parties: his employer, the owner of the office building where he worked, and the owner of a company that provided office vending machines. Apparently, he went to work one morning, sat at his desk, and the ceiling fell down on his head. The coffee machine in the office directly above his had leaked all night, soaking the ceiling and weakening it enough to fall upon him in heavy, sodden chunks. Poor guy was sitting there in a neck brace. I can’t remember the reason they excused me that time, but it could very well have been for ‘uncourtsmanshiplike laughing’.

Where giggling jurors go, if they’re not careful

Well, enough is enough. I see that cursed turkey out there again. (I’d take his picture and show you, but when he sees me, he runs. Or he’d better.) In closing, I’d like to thank Molly, who wrote a hilarious piece last week on her own jury duty experience, thus nudging my memory and prompting this post. So she’s the one to sue if you don’t like it. I rest my case.

Amagansett, New York. July 2017

16 thoughts on “So help me God

  1. drallisonbrown

    Strangely, I’ve never been called for jury duty, either! (and I’m no spring chicken). Now that I’ve said that, watch what happens….seriously, though, you are my new favorite booger, (oops, I mean blogger) – you crack me up!!

    • Hey there, Allison! If you call me your new favorite, then I’ll happily be your ‘booger’! Seriously, so glad you enjoy my posts — watch for a new one every Tuesday. xoxoxo Oh, and yes. Now that you’ve stated for the record that you’ve never been called for jury duty, guess what? You are SO getting that notice in tomorrow’s mail!

  2. angelanoelauthor

    For heaven’s sake you won the jury lottery! That’s a lot of “duty” if you ask me. And wow on the sequestering. That sounds pretty . . . um . . . awful. And the dentist! If I ever get in trouble–which I won’t unless I get caught up in some House of Cards-style shenanigans, I’d want you as my juror. So, there’s that. 🙂

  3. On getting out of jury duty: look eager to “help” and tell them that your favorite entertainment are those crime procedurals (CSI of any flavor are good, and bring up “Making a Murderer” if you can). I’ve seen them wipe entire jury pools for that and start fresh. If they persist, look for opportunities to ask if they got samples of air from the crime scene, “because it’s really important that those samples be taken before too many investigators were wandering through, you know?”

  4. I have never had to do jury duty. I was summoned once, but I was in University and 4 hours away so I got out of it. I’ve never heard of anyone who thought sequestering was fun. No crosswords or TV? No thanks!

    • Sequestering was indeed weird. I don’t think they do it that much anymore. Only for the big O.J.-type cases. But back then, man, if you didn’t reach a verdict that first day? Off you go to a fleabag motel to share a room with a (same-sex-but-still) stranger! Thanks for reading and commenting, dear StomperDad!

  5. I love this, Alice! And thanks for giving me a shout out. I wondered as I read it if my post had taken you down memory lane. I can’t believe you had to have a roommate when you were sequestered. That would be so weird to me. And what a boring time that must have been! Glad you got a new dentist – LOL. I chase turkeys out of our yard all the time. They are so tame now they barely cock their heads to acknowledge there is a crazy woman in their midst yelling and shooing them.

    • First, thank you! For the inspiration, and for not minding that I cited you in my piece (I meant to ask first, then I had to go chase that damned turkey, and it slipped my mind.) Yup, it’s true — they assigned us roomies when we got sequestered. I’m not only relieved they were ‘same-sex’, but that they were in fact ‘assigned’. It would have been really embarrassing if we got to pick your own, and then nobody picked me (!) Thanks again for jogging my judicial memory; I look forward to reading many more of your posts!

      • Hey, the problem would be if you used my material and didn’t cite it, Alice, so I’m all for being an inspiration for a fellow writer whenever possible! That roommate thing would have killed me, but you’ve got a good point about being assigned. That would be so humiliating to be the last one chosen. It would be like softball all over again!

  6. Jury duty can be interesting, Alice, but it sure puts a crimp in any plans you may have. I have been called twice and dismissed twice. Some of the the jury pool had more problems and criminal backgrounds than the defendant. But I sure enjoyed watching how it was done, especially out here. Thanks for writing, friend.

    • First things first: Thanks for reading, dear Judy! And yes, to the putting-a-crimp-in-the-plans part of jury duty. The last time I served it was because I’d already postponed my service twice (the most you can do so here). Seems that, even though I am retired, there is so much going on in my life that jury duty can mess up! Also, I had been relaxing out here in Amagansett, and had to return to the hot old City in order to report to court. I must say, though, that once I’m there I do find it fascinating. Just watching my fellow jurors (and hearing their stories if I’m lucky enough to get called into a courtroom) is usually worth the price of admission (cancelled plans). I forgot to mention in the piece that the last time I served I also scheduled a colonoscopy so that I could make the most of that trip back to the City!!!

  7. Debi Feinman

    Loved this. I got sequestered too….the Travel Lodge on W 42nd. Smoked at that time, and getting permission to leave the room to smoke meant standing right next to our “guard”. What a New York Moment! First time I ever got to the Wed NYT crossword! was sooooo excited. And then there was the civil suit….slipped on the sidewalk case. When asked why I wouldnt make a good juror I answered “because the world is just too damn litigious and I am tired of this nonsense. Its impossible to help those who really need help because most of you (point to the lawyers) are too busy making mountains out of molehills”\

    Neither side wanted me…. 🙂

    • Wow, Debi. I knew there was a reason I liked you (well, there’s more than one, actually)! And you know what? I think the hotel I was talking about in this piece was in fact the Travel Lodge, and not a Holiday Inn. Who knows? Maybe we were there at the same time (!) And I’m going to tell The Dude to try using your line about being “tired of this nonsense” with the bit about the lawyers “making mountains out of molehills”. Perfect! And thanks for reading and taking the time to tell your (hilarious) story. Hangin’ with the guard, smoking! A New York Moment, for sure!

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