Thursday, May 26, 2005

I, the Jury

In the last 10 years, I've been summoned to jury duty four times--three times in Texas, once here. The first three times, I was the main caregiver to a child under 10 (my son wasn't even in kindergarten yet), so the State of Texas kindly allowed me to defer service, and ultimately I made it out of the state unscathed.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts caught me, however. (I do wonder what makes me so lucky--my husband has never been called for jury duty. Not once. And he registers to vote, pays his taxes, etc. Hmmmm.) In fairness to the state government, they give you something like three months' warning, so I was mentally prepared to serve. Sort of. I wasn't really prepared to serve the same week I had gone up and back to St. Louis in two days (for work) and gotten back at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning thanks to the monsoon-like conditions that caused every plane flying to the Northeast to be delayed.

I got up at 5:30 Thursday morning, drove to the T stop at Alewife, got off at Kendall Square, and promptly started heading the wrong way out of the station. What should have been a 1/2-mile walk became a 1 mile walk with little time to spare. It's amazing how many brilliant people who frequent the environs of MIT have NO IDEA WHERE $%^&* THIRD STREET IS. (I know, I know--the lack of road signs. I was supposed to know where I was.)

On the brighter side, who knew that the darling waterproof tote I bought in the St. Louis airport would prove to be handy only 30 hours after arriving home?

For the second time this week, I became adept at the art of waiting in marginally comfortable chairs. At least at the airport, you can go buy cheesy "I visited the Arch!" snowglobes. On the other hand, maybe I'm onto something: How about "My Wife Was Called to Jury Duty at the Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge, and All I Got Was this Lousy T-shirt"?

About 75 of us waited patiently all morning. And I do mean patiently. You've never seen such a calm, quiet bunch. When we had to move to the main jurors' room to watch our orientation film, everyone just quietly picked up their books, newspapers, and coats and moved. I once had a boss from Iran (darling guy) who commented that Americans were really good about lining up quietly for stuff--no pushing, no shoving, no shouting--much better than Iranians (his words). I don't know whether that's a good thing exactly, but it certainly made for a civil experience in the courtroom (pun intended).

Coming in, I was like most of my compatriots--interested mainly in minimizing the likelihood of actually sitting through a trial. I work full time, have a family, volunteer for the PTO, blah, blah, blah. But then we watched the film--which features one of my heroes, Mass. Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall--and I began to daydream: What if I was the deciding vote in a major criminal case (one lasting no more than two days, of course--gotta get back to work)? Better yet, what if I were the foreman? (Foreperson?) Would I be like Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men--a beacon of righteousness and logic facing an angry mob?

Film over. Back to waiting. They told us that two criminal cases might indeed be empaneling juries that afternoon, but we wouldn't know for a few hours. Sam Waterston--were you in my future?

More waiting. Lunch. Finally, they told us that the two cases were settled. (It turns out the threat of a mob of impatient--yet quiet--potential jurors waiting to be empaneled leads to a lot of cases being settled.) We could go.

Poof! No Sam Waterston. No Henry Fonda. Just my little constitutional part in serving the American justice system. Civic duty discharged.

See you in three years, Sullivan Courthouse! Please have a selection of t-shirts and snowglobes waiting.


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