Friday, November 18, 2011

What I Learned from Jury Duty: Lots

I'm back to blathering in my usual, tedious way:

1. Jury duty is our civil obligation. Among other responsibilities, we are obliged to be civil, no matter how difficult the trial or deliberations may become. Only judges are free to be stern, cranky, impatient, or whimsical. That's because judges are way cooler than everyone else — and not merely because they wear robes from Hogwarts and have special powers.

2. When you're on the witness stand, speak up or the judge will yell at you. If you don't speak up after the judge yells, the jury will yell at you. You don't want that.

3. Read and understand contracts before you sign them. Don't say under oath, "Oh, I didn't know what I was signing. I should have read it first." Especially if the contract is a simple paragraph that the jurors have just read in half a minute.

4. Never lie on your resumé. Imagine it enlarged on a screen in front of a jury, years later, during a cross-examination to illuminate your character. Don't even stretch the truth. Don't say you were "responsible for the company's payroll" when all you did was deliver checks. If you're determined to ignore this advice, don't squirm, look away, stutter, or change your story as you're lying. Why bother?

5. Don't take legal advice from your child until you've sent him/her to law school.

6. If a court demands records from you, provide them promptly. Make sure they are complete and accurate. Don't fudge or lie. Otherwise, the jury will hear that you were in contempt of the court even before the trial began, which doesn't portray you in a golden light. They'll also get to see all the fudged records you sent before a judge managed to knock some sense into you.

7. Don't try to convince the jury that your massive townhouse on a classy street is worth the ridiculous, piddling amount listed in tax records.We may be a jury of your peers but that doesn't mean we're stupid.

8. If you're watching a trial as spectator or participant, don't make faces when you hear something you consider outrageous. It upsets the judge, who will threaten to eject you. And it distracts the jury, who are sneaking sly peeks at you against their better judgment.

9. If you can settle, settle! Even if you can't stand to settle, do it anyway, especially if you reneged on a contract, fudged your accounting statements, or did anything that declares you to be obviously in the wrong. Any half-decent lawyer can shred you on the witness stand. Any jury can see through you.

10. The catered lunches in the jury room improve each day. By Day 5, the court officer promises that you'll soon get lobster and filet mignon. In reality, you just get increasingly fancy sandwiches. But if deliberations drag on for too long, I suspect you'll start getting stuff like chicken bones, cat food, or stale bread.

11. What you cannot get in Suffolk Superior Court is water. They can't afford bottled water or even a bubbler. You're expected to drink tap from the bathroom. We had to divide one small bottle of water into many paper cups. The court officer must have stolen it from someone sleeping in the jury pool.

12. Mail carriers love jury duty because they hate how their supervisors can track them via GPS now, to make sure they're being speedy along their routes. Their routes are extra long these days, due to budget cuts. And it's Christmas catalog time. Be glad you aren't a mail carrier.

13. Postal workers really do go postal. It's scary to witness any adult meltdown, but it's worse in close quarters, like a jury room. But if someone has to throw a tantrum, you might as well watch a seasoned pro, not some half-hearted wannabe.

14. Before jurors are allowed to deliberate, they spend long stretches in the jury room trying not to talk about the case. Consider passing this time by doing science projects — perhaps a fountain made with Coke and Mentos, which you can buy from the little stand outside the jury pool. Or bring in your own equipment for baking-soda volcanoes and such. You will bond with your fellow jurors while making a mess. The Juror's Handbook does not specifically prohibit this. You can also instruct your fellow jurors in folding paper cranes.

15. If anybody on the jury tries to lead the rest of you in prayer, don't go there. Just don't. Do not.

16. Cell phones are forbidden when you deliberate, even during breaks. Jurors go through withdrawal. They don't know what to do with their hands. Observe all the weird things they do instead.

17. The court officer will tell you he locks the jury room during deliberations, but he's only messing with your head.


  1. Ed and I want you to syndicate a column. Ed just compared you to Dave Barry as I read this piece to him. He wanted to know what had me laughing first thing in the am. We miss great humorists in publications.

    And, I'm going to have to keep a cover for my keyboard handy when I read you with morning coffee. You hit me with a bon mot mid-sip and I nearly sprayed my desk with coffee.

  2. This is awesome - I learned a lot! Glad you're back in one piece. :)


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