A few years ago, I lost an irreplaceable chunk of my life to New York City's justice system.
The U.S. jury system is a beautiful ideal. And I hope that when I need a jury, there will be willing, smart people ready to take the duty seriously (not those bitter, harried people who just want to get back to work). But dammit, Janet, people would be much more excited about jury duty if only The System threw out a few more of the stupid cases before they went to trial.
I thought that, wearing my smarty pants every day as I do, the likelihood of my being chosen was low. I would just report when summoned, and get the two weeks' waiting-to-not-be-selected over with, while there was a lull between production cycles at work. Done.
As I floated there in the jury pool, the courthouse suffused in dust, despair, and enmity, I began to get a bad feeling. At last I was called before the lawyers:
Have you seen the Plaintiff before? I was asked.
“Nope.” Wrong answer. He used to be on TV.
How do you feel about lawyers?
“My dad was a lawyer, and now he hates ‘em.” Not psycho enough—need more vitriol in the next answer.
Are you replaceable at work, and/or would anyone miss you on the chance you dropped off the face of the Earth into a sequestered motel for a month of your life?
“I have a very needy cat…” I really should have reheased these answers.
A creeping dread worked its way across my scalp, and I was selected. Where were the warm handshakes? The hugs, and hearty congratulations? There was no crown, and no bouquet. Only a juror number and a trial date bestowed, along with instructions to return, on penalty of penalty.
For the next four weeks of what would have been my life, two of probably the most annoying lawyers on the face of the Earth haggled over… fees. Lawyers, trained in mediation, suing each other because they couldn’t settle on a fee... from each other.
I don’t hate lawyers, universally. Some of my best friends are lawyers. But there are some I would gladly drop-kick into hell. I’d start with the defendant in this case, who demanded a jury trial because any judge would have ruled against him, probably by the middle of his opening statement. Acting as his own attorney, he bluffed, blustered, and emoted, contradicting himself so many times I would have laughed aloud, but for that harpy eagle of a wife sitting next to him. She scanned the jury box so intently I thought she'd swoop down and eat any juror showing inappropriate behavior, or favoritism toward the plaintiff. Or, she might just tear out some entrails for fun.
It was unnerving, for two straight weeks. Then, by Week Three, I'd become numb. Hardened. A hatred sprouted in my heart, fed by hours of immature banter and inexplicable court rules, day after day. After day. Did I mention this went on for a month?
As you might surmise, I began rooting for the Plaintiff. An actor/lawyer who doodled little robots and flowers on his time sheets (Plaintiff’s Evidence 26), he somehow managed to sit in the same office for 20 years with the lawyer he was then suing. If we jurors were allowed to question the players in this absurd melodrama, my first for RoboDoodle, Esq. would have been, “Were you in a coma during any or all of your partnership with this man?” And my follow-up: “What the hell were you thinking?” I guess, as in a marriage, things started off swimmingly enough. Then one stops doing enough chores or socializing at parties to satisfy the other. In any case, the partnership devolved into nasty, sad pot shots during the trial, like, “Well, the Plaintiff’s son died during the period in question, but the boy lived with his mother in another state, and he didn’t really grieve much anyway. Besides, I lost 40 pounds fighting the case from the stress.” Though I am not a law-school graduate—still, the Pound of Flesh argument is not one I would have chosen to use. And not to put too fine a point on it: 40 pounds off the one lawyer was likely beneficial to his health. This point was not argued. Terrible lawyers, I tell you.
During one of his turns, the Plaintiff (with his own lawyer) posited, “I guess you’ve heard the old adage that a lawyer who defends himself has an ass for a client.” The Defendant could only reply, “It’s ‘fool,’ not ‘ass’!”
Wow, you got him there! I tried my best to induce a heart attack to get off the case. Apparently, you can't will yourself into spontaneous human combustion, either. I began to gnaw at my leg.
At the end of the courtroom misery, we deliberated for entirely too long, and decided to give the Plaintiff $60,000, which was, I’m sure, appealed. We, The Jury learned after the case that Defendant had tried to settle for $40K when Plaintiff demanded $80K. How long did it take you to average $40K and $80K? Well, the answer took an entire month of my life. So, I sued the lawyers for mental health grievance and four weeks' loss of liberty. Still waiting for my court date.
With my usefulness as a juror thus firmly established in the eyes of the New York court system, I began to receive summonses at an alarming rate. They poured into my mailbox with the enthusiasm of credit card offers. I had to flee the state to avoid civic servitude. But it did not end there.
On my arrival in California to start a new life, a summons from NY demanded my juridical expertise. “Return at once!! Your service is required in the courts of New York.” At the bottom of the page was a notice that living in California was, in fact, no excuse from NYC jury duty. (Jeez, NY is tough.) I needed to prove I had a new permanent address out West, or they would send bloodhounds and sheriffs, bad lawyers and rude taxi drivers. What choice did I have? I took out a restraining order against the City of New York.