essays

Peregrine Justice...Live From the Left Coast

juror numberAnnual jury duty in California is promoted as a privilege. There are posters and videos, with movie stars and other famous people, imparting how special it is to serve. There are blogs and point spreads on the likelihood of getting called, selected, vetted by the attorneys on both sides and then actually hearing a case. The closest I ever got, beyond the “potential” category, was being an alternate; you sit through all proceedings but you can’t speak or vote during deliberations. You are basically there in case one of the real jurors drops dead in the middle of negotiations. Alternates help the court maintain efficiency.

Once a year I get the dreaded notification. It’s a stiff fine and possible jail time now to toss or ignore it. The truly awful part is when the 300 or so people, who have also been selected to appear, report to a large and shabby fifties-style, badly designed, assembly room in the courthouse. There are computers to share (old Dells-think DOS and bilious green screens), books to read (you wouldn’t want to even touch one of them) and magazines to browse (newest one -- a clearly unpopular Boaters World from June, 2002).

Loudmouths abound. You are asked to turn off cell phones. To retaliate, the people who would normally “share”, with everyone in earshot, their boring and ridiculous lives, now prowl the room, looking for old high school friends and flames with whom to shriek. There are also the way-cool, and apparently trusting, types with laptops. When I heard the court was offering free Wi-Fi all I could think of was personal info going straight into Pauly Shore Jury Dutya shady Bahamanian database. Most people just sit there with a slightly glazed look, waiting to be called to a courtroom so they might sit in judgment.

In the kitchen, the menu makes you crave a heard-of brand of coffee and a food truck. You can exit for the bathroom or hallways but are certain to get screeched at, over an antiquated mike system to, “Come back in,” “Reassemble,” or, “Gather your fellow potential jurors," as the clerks call from the courtrooms that you are there to serve.

Some years back, I noticed a rooftop deck. People were gathered out there smoking and gabbing. One of the clerks announced over the scratchy mike that Peregrine falcons had taken over parts of the deck to roost. He advised NOT spending time out there unless necessary; I guessed he meant the smokers. About halfway through that interminable day I saw a bird swoop and a guy clutch the top of his head. 911 was called and the paramedics brought the guy with a bloody head through the middle of the assembly room on a stretcher.

Yesterday, there was no one on the deck. Smoking is now banned in or near all courthouses in California. There were Peregrines on every ledge, an impressive kind of justice in a place where justice (sort of) rules.

Kim Kohler writes on the uncertainties of living in a liberal hot spot where everybody has an opinion, every opinion counts and nobody signals.

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