Liveblogging jury duty!

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My time is up. I must serve my jury duty this week. I write to you from the jury pool room in the county courthouse in Inglewood.

The way jury duty works in Los Angeles county is this: you are bound to clear your schedule for five business days. If you don’t get put on a trial on the first day, you can go home and not have to come back for a year or more. However, if you get chosen to serve, you have to expect the trial to last three to five days.

Now then, there’s a trick. You may or may not have to serve on the first day of your week. You need to call in every night to see if they need you to come in the next day. Last time I was called, I didn’t have to go in for the first three days at all, but then had to report on Thursday. The problem is, your five days of service don’t begin on the first day you’ve pledged, they begin on the first day you’re called in. So for me, I came in on Thursday and found that my service began on that day, and could be expected to go until the following Thursday. So suddenly, a week of jury duty becomes two weeks of jury duty. Because I’m self-employed, I had cancelled a week of meetings and work time to serve on a jury; now they were asking me to cancel two. So I had to postpone to the dead of August, when nothing happens in show business, and here I am. To make matters worse, due to Governor Schwarteneggar’s terminating the state budget, the courts don’t operate at all on the third Wednesday of each month, which is tomorrow, and that means that if I’m chosen to serve, my week will be one day longer. Sheesh.

The people in charge of orienting the jurors here in Inglewood are friendly and even funny — they know jury duty is a drag and no one wants to be here, and they crack many wry jokes about everyone’s level of discomfort.

They also showed us a video and asked us to pay close attention. The video turned out to be a solemn, inspirational, condescending 15-minute documentary explaining how a jury works and the important rolea jury plays in society. It is pitched to an audience with the intelligence of the average 10-year-old. It contains, I swear, lines like "California is our nation’s greatest state, filled with natural beauty and blessed with a robust economy. But we do have disputes here, and we do have crime, and that’s where the state justice system comes in." This spoken over shots of waves crashing on rocks in Malibu and the sun setting over downtown Los Angeles. Then there were a number of brief scenes showing the kinds of things we might expect to see inside an LA County courtroom, as though no one in the jury pool room had ever seen a courtroom drama. I can’t imagine who they got to write and direct and shoot and cut and act in this thing.

We are now waiting for a judge to come around and give us a little more info on what might happen to us today.

UPDATE 11:33 Nothing has happened for the past 90 minutes.  Just a large number of people in the jury pool room, chatting and reading and making phone calls and texting and playing video games on their iPhones and surfing the internet on their laptops.  Myself, to keep myself entertained I’ve brought Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, which is a novel about a man, if you can call him a man, who exists in a kind of grey void and imagines that there is some group of authority figures, somewhere, who are waiting for him to say something.  What they want him to day he has no idea, so he creates characters who exist in what you and I would call "the real world," and tells stories about them.  One character he creates is called Mahood.  Mahood is a one-legged man who comes home after a long absence to find his entire extended family dead of botulism.  Another character he creates is called Worm.  Worm is a limbless torso who lives in a large jar on the front porch of a restaurant somewhere in suburban Ireland.  He acts as sort-of the restaurant’s mascot, and the restaurant’s menu leans against his jar.  The rest of the book, a good 120 pages or so, is filled with the narrator’s musings on who his captors are, what they want from him, what he thinks they might want to hear him say, where his voice comes from (because it does not come from within himself) and how he might be able to finally stop talking at some point.  Beach reading from Mr. Beckett.

In case I whip through The Unnamable before I’m selected, I’ve also brought Beckett’s last novel How It is, which is about a guy who crawls around naked in the mud and tortures another guy with a can opener.  It has no punctuation.  Beckett was obviously shooting for the bestseller list with that one.

UPDATE 12:00 NOON In a surprise twist, everyone has been sent home early.  And that’s it, we don’t have to come back for at least another year.  Mysterious thing, this civic duty.  Apparently no cases went to jury today.  And I was so looking forward to being one of 12 angry men.


22 Responses to “Liveblogging jury duty!”
  1. sasha_khan says:

    “We are now waiting for a judge to come around and give us a little more info on what might happen to us today”

    … and a pat on the head, AND a cookie

    • swan_tower says:

      … and a pat on the head, AND a cookie

      Nope. Budget cuts have eliminated both.

      • Todd says:

        You joke, but this is actually the literal truth — jurors used to get coffee and danishes and sandwiches and things, but budget cuts have done away with that — now we fend for ourselves, sometimes turning to cannibalism.

        • swan_tower says:

          Yeah, I just got my first duty summons up here in the Bay Area. Have requested a continuance because they want me to show up right in the middle of my race to meet my deadline, which is a pretty sure-fire method of making my head EXPLODE and my book not get turned in on time. But I’ll get to see the joys of it for myself in a few months.

          I’ll be sure to bring food. (Er — you are allowed to bring some, right?)

          • Todd says:

            I’m stunned at the stuff they let you bring. They also let you go wandering around wherever you want, as long as you check back in every 15 minutes or so. They also give you a 90-minute lunch break, and even provide menus to local restaurants to help you make a choice in dining.

            • swan_tower says:

              Hopefully it won’t suck too much, then. I’ll either be noodling around with the early stages of a book I’m looking forward to writing (if an editor buys the first of that series, <knocks on wood>) or reading for a purely spec project I’m also looking forward to writing, so either way, I’ll have low-stress, enjoyable work to occupy me.

  2. rootboy says:

    Jury duty in New York involves an equally condescending video, complete with history-channel quality historical reenactments of medieval “trial by combat” on which our system is such an improvement.

  3. mimitabu says:

    i have jury duty in a week. blahhhhhhhhh

  4. greyaenigma says:

    The one time I was on jury duty, they had us wait in the pool for a few hours. When I was finally brought up to a court room, they brought about forty of us, then decided they didn’t need nearly that many, and I allowed to go home.

    Which is just to say you should move to Oregon.

  5. The California jury duty system sounds pretty god-awful. Up here in Massachusetts, we get assigned a particular date and courthouse, show up, and sit around until you’re either put on a jury or all the trials happening that day have enough jurors, in which case you can go home. I seem to remember getting completely off the hook once because I got a call that there weren’t any trial at that courthouse on that day anymore and so they just let me skip the whole thing.

    If it helps any, my mom says that jury duty used to take a whole month.

  6. craigjclark says:

    This brings up an interesting question. What would happen if, say, Brad Pitt, were called up for jury duty? And what if it conflicted with the production of one of his movies?

  7. malsperanza says:

    Oh, too bad. Being on a jury is incredibly cool. And here in NYC being on jury duty is a fantastic way to get a lot of writing done. The quiet room in the jury pool is wall-to-wall authors with their laptops, all writing novels and screenplays and TV eps of courthouse dramas.

    Plus: Chinatown at lunch, mmm.

    • Todd says:

      I wouldn’t have minded seeing a trial, but my opinion of jury duty is tarnished by my reading Helter Skelter at a young age. The jurors in the Manson murder case were sequestered for over a year and a half, and many of their lives were ruined as a result.

      • malsperanza says:

        Horrible. (FWIW, I think they were sequestered for 9 months, not 18–about the same length as the jurors in the OJ trial. But still awful.)

        Until about 10 years ago, in NY jury sequestration was mandatory in criminal trial deliberations. Since that rule was dropped there have been studies suggesting that jurors do about as fair and balanced a job as they did with sequestration. (Plus, it’s expensive.)

        The Manson jurors were kind of a special case, as was everything about that trial (second only to the Chicago 7 trial for sheer sixties lunacy). A bunch of them wrote books (one during the trial), and there were lots of scandales & romances and whatnot.

  8. black13 says:

    “the sun setting over downtown Los Angeles”

    Is that the same sunset stock footage they used on the A-Team credits?

  9. mydclife says:

    Jury life

    As a DC resident you not only get jury for District Court but also Federal Court. Last year I got a trial in May for District Court, which, luckily, was settled out of court after the first day, and in September for Federal Court. The fed one was at least for a Senator so it was at least interesting later to read all the newspaper reports about it. But what I really hate about jury duty are the tvs they will not turn off in the pool room. The fed court lounge was tuned to oxygen of all things and it was a marathon of Snapped.