Wednesday, March 31, 2010
In spite of having served on a jury in state court last year, I was summoned to federal court jury duty earlier this week. Ordinarily, a citizen cannot be called for duty for two years after serving; however, state court and federal court are mutually exclusive in that regard. (In fact, federal jury duty may be structured such that jurors are "on call" for a two-week period, as is the case with my service.) So, on Monday morning I had to rise at the ungodly hour of 5:00 to appear at the courthouse by 7:15. I entered the jury room and sat two seats down from a moron who talked more than any individual I have ever encountered in my life ("blah, blah, blah, blah, BLAH, blah, blah blah ..."), and I proceeded to experience several "WTF?" moments that left me feeling like, well ... like "WTF"?
Following the performance by the verbally diarrheaic moron came the magistrate judge who spoke to us before we moved into the courtroom. Wow, talk about your dinosaurs. I don't mean to be cruel, but this tottering little old man was one of the most boring humans I've ever had the misfortune to be held captive by. I believe his speech was intended to give us some insight as to how jury duty works and encourage us in performing our civic responsibilities, but oh, my. He was anything but inspirational. He went down so many rabbit trails - and he talked sooooooo..... freaking...... slowly ..... When he launched into a lesson on World War II Japanese internment camps (which I still cannot quite correlate to the subject at hand), I started considering viable methods for quickly killing myself and thereby escaping the mere presence of his voice. At one point, he presided as several jurors requested postponement of or dismissal from service. One young woman had a job interview in San Antonio later in the day and asked to have her service postponed. As the decrepit magistrate dismissed her, he said, "Good luck. Do your best. Be your prettiest." Wow. Just ... wow. Sexism. Alive and well in the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas.
I suppose I just haven't had enough courtroom experience to know how this works, but I was left wondering if it is common practice for an overtly Christian prayer to be recited before proceedings begin. (I should note that even though I wasn't selected for jury duty, I did have to go through the voir dire process wherein jurors are questioned by the judge and/or the attorneys to determine selection, which was rather excruciating in itself.) I was quite taken aback when one of the courtroom coordinators issued the mandate, "Let us pray" and launched into your standard, Christian "Lord, watch over these proceedings" type prayer.
Don't misunderstand me. I hold fast to my Christian faith - although I do not necessarily participate in mainstream expressions of such. Although I am a Christian, I do take strong issue with prayer in a court of law. To me, this is a flagrant violation of separation of church and state principles, and I have no idea how or why this is appropriate, much less constitutionally legal. As the mandate to pray was issued, and all around me heads were bowed and eyes were closed in instant submission, I held my head aloft and stared straight ahead. I'm not about to pray because governmental authority instructs me to.
And then there was the woman who sat next to me during voir dire . She obviously thought it was Happy-Chatty Social Hour, because she kept trying to whisper to me, making flippant comments about things the judge said that she found humorous. I finally just faced front and leaned slightly to the right (she was on my left) and lowered my head a bit so that my hair hid my face, but she continued to look over at me repeatedly, trying to catch my eye. Good grief! It's a courtroom, lady! For cryin' out loud!
Another woman on the end of the opposite row was one of these bobbleheaded people who had to nod in agreement with every word being spoken during the proceedings. I don't get people who do that. I mean, is that their way of processing information? Do they do that because they want everyone else in the room to know they agree with what's being said? For heaven's sake - keep your head from flopping up and down. It's annoying.
Although I was not selected to serve on this particular case, I did learn that it was a criminal matter: An adult male was indicted for attempting to "hook up" (I'm sure there's a proper legal term for that) with a 13 year old girl that he met online. That's just got nasty written all over it, and it would have completely repulsed and sickened me, were it not for the fact that the 13 year old never existed in the first place. The defendant had, in actuality, been chatting up a Fort Worth police officer, and when he went to meet what he fully expected to be a hot-to-trot Lolita, he was arrested. (I won't go into my incredulity at how stupid a grown man would have to be to fall for such a sting in the first place. I suppose being a disgusting pedophile and being an ignorant doofus go hand in hand.) Initially I was relieved to have been spared this particular case, but then I started thinking that it would have been interesting to learn the various points of law that undoubtedly came into play. I've always wondered how sting operations produce viable indictments; is this not entrapment by law enforcement? Is mere intent sufficient to bring charges against an individual, even if no physical act has been committed? I wonder how each side would have argued the issues.
Aside from a number of distractions and annoyances (and hey, maybe I was just extra pissy since I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. in order to be on time -- a distinct possibility), I did enjoy simply being in the courtroom. The building itself is an historic treasure, designed in the classic moderne style. The courtroom was spectacular - rich wood paneling and highly detailed, gold-painted relief at the ceiling. Four astoundingly overgrown chandeliers hung at precise points, casting a soft glow. A large mural of Sam Houston had been painstakingly created on the wall behind me. If nothing else, I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by such beauty. The courtroom looked like a place where important things happen. I hope that (in spite of prayer-on-demand and a snippet of blatant sexism) it is also a place where justice is consistently served.