Jury Lounge, First Circuit Court, 777 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, Hawai`i
Well, the first five or so hours of this, my first foray into my 'civic duty' as an American, have been... educational. I'm sure more ridiculous, convoluted illustrations of government bureaucracy exist, but I'll bet none is as specifically engineered to annoy so many everyday people for the benefit of a single accused criminal, mind you as jury duty.
I, along with the nearly 140 other people in this particularly massive candidate pool, was originally scheduled to show up here last Monday. Everyone probably scrambled to settle things with employers, find babysitters, and get things in order. But a call to the Circuit Court Code-A-Phone that morning informed us that screening for Group N was postponed a week.
We were re-dubbed group N-7 ("as in Nancy dash seven"). And this time the Code-A-Phone reported, "Your trial is on."
So at 7:45 this morning, the whole lot of us which, incidentally, included the great Lawton Mak, esteemed hubby of UH radio deejay and tabloid webmistress Mary filed into the courthouse and into this "jury lounge," a drab, odd-smelling room packed wall to wall with ugly orange vinyl-seated chairs.
Because we apparently took to long to park our butts in said seats, we skipped the "informational video" (what a tragedy!) and went straight into the orientation.
"Orientation" was just a friendly way of saying, "Filling out the form on a little beige card without screwing up," which involved taking everyone through every mindless, tedious step. "If you have a change of address," lectured the woman over the antiquated P.A. system, "please put the correct information in the box labeled, 'Change of Address.'"
That done, we were told to the bailiff from Judge Watanabe's court was coming down to begin the screening process. You know, the fun part, where you stand up and say you can't serve because you have a ritual sacrifice scheduled next week and you still have to get the goat, and besides, the voices are telling you to stay away from lawyers until spring.
So we waited. And waited. And waited.
A good 45 minutes later, the bailiff finally did arrive. And she told us that the trial for which we had been called had just been postponed again, this time until tomorrow.
"But," she added, before anyone could stand up, "Since we have you here, we want to see if we can use you."
So we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, another bailiff from another court got up at the podium. His trial was considerably smaller, he said, so he picked two dozen names off the list (maybe a fifth of us) and led them away.
The Leftovers which fortunately still included Lawton, so I still had someone to annoy with small talk were just told again to wait, a task at which some of my peers were quite skilled. I, sadly, could only kick myself repeatedly for not having brought anything to read. Eventually I broke down and bought The Honolulu Advertiser and studied it front to back.
It was the first time in history I actually touched the sports section. At least, for anything besides the entertaining night club ads.
"We're still trying to find a court that can use you," came the announcement another half an hour later. "You can all leave for now, but please be back here at 1:30 this afternoon."
Great. Now what? "It's too early for a movie at Restaurant Row," Lawton keenly observed. Go back to work? Not high on anyone's list. Sit in on a random trial and snicker inappropriately? Wander aimlessly around Kaka`ako?
Eventually the boring guy that I am I decided to run some long-neglected errands. Tragically, I finished them early, and had enough time left to stop back at the office and look at the pile of work I wasn't doing today.
At 1:30 p.m. sharp, I returned, to this very same ugly orange seat, to resume waiting. Lawton waits, too, one row ahead, forcing himself to read a book for class. Thinking ahead, this time I have an old Mac catalog and my laptop to keep me company. (I need to type quietly, though, so as not to wake up the guy two seats down.)
They just called some folks out for a second case, but once again, Lawton and I are left behind.
"...and although we just split up this group for Judge Ahn, we just learned there has been a settlement in that case. Therefore, your services are no longer needed for the year 1999. You have completed your obligation and hopefully will not be called for another two years."
Wow. An enthusiastic round of applause.
Talk about dodging a bullet. Apparently the case for which everyone was originally called was a very big, high-profile criminal case. That was why group N-7 was so huge they figured they needed to take four days go through about 250 people to find 12 who hadn't heard about it or had no personal hang-ups about the crime involved. (Sadly, they didn't elaborate.)
So "the good news," as they put it, was that if things had gone as planned, we would have taken all week just to finish screening, and if called, we'd be in court for at least four weeks.
The subsequent two trials for which we were tapped, by the way, were "little cases," to be resolved in two days at most. Still, less fun than getting let off the hook completely.
In a sick, sad way, I think one of my immediate reactions is disappointment. I mean, all jury duty is inconvenient, so if you're going to serve, it might as well be for a trial with lots of guns, guts, duelling witnesses and forensic science and stuff. The inner journalist would have just loved the claims, the counterclaims, documentation and points of law. (And the internal conflict over how much to leak in gossip with friends would have been positively delicious!)
I'll do anything to avoid my mom's fate the last time she was called. That trial took two months, off and on, and focused solely on contractor liability in the extensive rust damage at Aloha Stadium. We're talking eight straight hours of rivet threads and hairline stress fractures.
I guess I'll have to save my "I'm a disciple of Satan" excuse for next time.