Friday, November 07, 2008
Part One HERE.
After I was the last one to be seated on the jury, we were all escorted into the deliberation room, there to wait our first call into court. Perhaps 12 feet by 16 feet, the ambiance of the room was similar to that of an urban public school classroom of the early 20th Century. For amenities, it contained two heavy oaken tables, about 7 feet long by 3 feet wide, set end-to-end from one corner of the room towards the other, and 14 fairly comfortable padded chairs. A modern convenience was a microwave oven, although there was nothing to eat. There was also a fireplace, although no wood to burn in it; a whole bunch of coffee creamers and sugar, although no coffee to put them in; and five or six hardcover books, I suppose to entertain you if everybody else was arguing and you had already made up your mind.
(As we found out, there was more time spent in that room than we originally expected, and I mean prior to deliberating the case. If one of us had wanted to read an entire novel, it probably could have been done. Also, as mentioned in part one, the Lower Palookaville court personnel were unfailingly kind. They later provided us with coffee, tea, cookies, candies, and more substantial fare, such as pizza and salads, on more than one occasion. I don’t want to slight their largesse simply for the sake of humor.)
The court officer left us alone and closed the door. Not knowing what else to do in this situation, we all stood there, a bit uneasy, trying to come up with small talk. Over the course of the eight days, we would discuss the weather more than most meteorologists. Everybody was pleasant enough, to be sure, but it was one of those situations where we all hoped it would be over with as soon as possible. Nobody wanted to invest a lot of emotion into personal relationships that we would prefer to have dissolved quickly. To give you an example: While we certainly introduced ourselves to those with which we most often conversed while waiting, we did not formally introduce ourselves to each other, by going around the table and giving our names, until the day when we began deliberation. Even then, most gave just a first name.
The court officer – a real nice guy with a great sense of humor, and also my personal escort during breaks since I was the only jury member who smoked – came back in and told us the procedure. Every time we entered the courtroom, we would file in by order of our seat numbers. He would be in the lead and announce our arrival. When we left the courtroom at the end of the day, or for a scheduled break, he would lead us into the deliberation room, from which he would subsequently release us to the outside world or keep us informed of when we’d be needed again. If we had any questions, he would be our conduit to the judge.
He now lined us up by number and led us back into the courtroom. It was sort of like going on stage for the first time in a play. There were some butterflies in my stomach. I felt as though I should check to make sure that my fly was up, that there were no boogers hanging from my nose, and so forth. We filed in, going to our assigned seats.
We stood and waited while another officer recited a half-noble, half-overblown announcement about how court was now in session, hear ye, hear ye, all with grievances pay attention because here come de judge! Then he told everyone to be seated. There were notepads and pencils on our chairs. We picked them up and sat down.
The judge, a petite blonde in (I would guess, but I’m not always good at guessing a woman's age) her early 50’s – a decent looker, as judges go, in any case – gave us some instructions concerning what we were about to do. She explained thoroughly, but was not boring. She was, at all times, solicitous of the fact that we were somewhere we didn’t want to be. This was definitely appreciated. We would come to understand, after a short time in her court, that she wanted to move things along as quickly and efficiently as we did. Although her intent certainly wasn’t to belittle the gravity of the case, her eye-rolling and sometimes barely-contained smiles became, for us, a source of relief from some of the more tedious portions of the trial.
She told us that the case we would be hearing involved a suit and counter-suit, each side charging the other with five or six different counts of abuse, assault, mental cruelty, and other loving gestures. The parties bringing suit against each other were (not their real names, by the way) Mr. Irish and Mr. French. The judge explained that we were now going to hear opening arguments from each side, after which we would be taken back to the deliberation room. Then we would be set free for the remainder of the day. She asked us to remember that these opening arguments were NOT evidence, but merely a presentation by each lawyer of what he intended to prove to us concerning the rat bastards on the other side.
(She didn’t actually say "rat bastards". It was just generally understood.)
I opened my notebook, ready to begin taking notes. I absolutely was NOT ready for what I heard.
Mr. French and Mr. Irish sat with their lawyers, at tables in front of the judge's bench. They were both in their early 60's, Mr. Irish with a full head of gray/white hair, Mr. French with a bit less so. Mr. Irish appeared reasonably fit. Mr. French appeared to have enjoyed a few too many pork chops in his day. They both appeared somewhat bored - one might go so far as to say catatonic - while their lawyers went on, at length, concerning their respective hideous behaviors. For their parts, Mrs. French and Mrs. Irish were much the same, although they sat in the general seating area, away from their husbands.
Lawyer Number One got up, introduced himself, and said that he was representing Mr. French. He said that Mr. Irish was "a terrorist" and that he conducted a campaign of criminally malicious acts that had his client, Mr. French, as well as Mrs. French, fearful for their very lives. He said that, at various times, Mr. Irish had:
• Climbed trees and used binoculars to look into the French’s house.
• Released the French’s dogs out of their yard.
• Threatened Mr. French with bodily harm.
• Actually bodily harmed Mr. French.
• Made off-color and threatening remarks to other neighbors.
• Wrote “Fuck You” on a gigantic tarp and hung it between their houses so that Mr. & Mrs. French couldn’t help but always see it from their TV room and bedroom.
• Wrote obscenities in other places on the property, messages specifically directed towards Mr. French.
• Continually ran chainsaws, wood chippers, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and other machinery, both day and night, strictly to annoy Mr. French.
• Built acrid fires near Mr. French’s property line, so as to send voluminous amounts of smoke towards Mr. French’s house.
• Made false accusations concerning Mr. French to the police.
• And, he implied that Mr. Irish probably poisoned Mr. French’s dog.
Lawyer Number Two then got HIS chance. He introduced himself as Mr. Irish’s lawyer, and he said that he would endeavor to prove that Mr. Irish did none of the things alleged. However, Mr. French had done the following nasties:
• Continually photographed and videotaped Mr. & Mrs. Irish, 24-hours a day, with SIX different video cameras.
• Shone multiple spotlights into Mr. & Mrs. Irish’s bedroom, for many months, all night long.
• Took photographs and videos of the Irish’s daughter and granddaughters when they used the swimming pool in the Irish’s backyard.
• Kept his dogs out all night, barking, and would not listen to Mr. Irish’s requests to take them in and quiet them. Instead, he said that if Mr. Irish didn’t like it, he would encourage the dogs to bark more often.
• After his dogs pooped all over the yard in winter, leaving behind hundreds of droppings in the snow, he would pick up the excrement and throw it into Mr. Irish’s yard come spring.
• And, to top it all off, he had allegedly exposed his private parts to Mrs. Irish – twice, in two separate incidents, separated by months.
Thus concluded the opening arguments.
These people were next-door-neighbors; had been for almost ten years. They were both well past retirement age. It sounded like a sitcom plot gone horribly wrong. It was The Ricardos and The Mertzes with no laugh track, The Kramdens and The Nortons on a bad acid trip.
Oh, and did I mention that both of these guys were retired policemen?
Welcome to jury duty, Mr. Sullivan. It only resembles Hell. However, if you were still a Catholic, it could probably qualify as Purgatory.
Soon, with the other seven days of my life that I’ll never get back.
Go To Part Three.