Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jury Duty

Traveling is a privilege, and I don't want to lose it. Six months ago, I was summoned for jury duty in downtown L.A. When I postponed my service, the clerk assured me I would receive a confirmation notice in the mail about the date change, followed by a new summons. I made a note in my calendar. (You know what they say, "Don't believe a thing you hear, and only half of what you see.") Weeks went by, then months. Nothing, I mean, NOTHING else arrived. Then, I bumped into a friend, who mentioned something similar happened to her. Since my hairdresser mentioned one of her clients was pulled over for a traffic violation, and the LAPD discovered there was a warrant out for her arrest for ignoring several jury summons, I wasn't about to jeopardize my freedom. I pulled out my old summons, called the phone number listed, punched my info into the automated system, and was informed I was due to report at a challenging 7:45AM on Monday.

That's early, especially when you factor in the commute and the weapons search. At least parking is free, provided you park where instructed. Good thing I arrived with plenty of time to spare because it took eight minutes to walk to the courthouse. The line at the security checkpoint was short, but within minutes, it rivaled the one at LAX.

Forget about waiting for the elevator to the 11th floor. I overheard an employee complaining about how long they take, so I followed her and jumped on an express that went straight to the 12th. Then, I hopped out and took a different elevator to the 11th. Unless you want to stand around for 10 minutes and ignore the weight restrictions as people pack in when the elevator door finally opens, the express is the way to go.

The early bird does not get the worm. Instead, you'll be hanging out in the hall, waiting for the jury room to open around 8AM. Next is orientation, including info about what is suitable to wear. Since I was already dressed, I was wondering, "Isn't this a bit late?" Snappy t-shirts with words such as "Guilty" emblazoned across your chest are a definite no-no. Apparently, someone donned one in the past.

Write your emergency contact info on the form provided, but be forewarned: "911" isn't what they had in mind for the number to list. Nor should you mention “pretty rocky” next to “Relationship.”

Fill out the half-slip of paper, inquiring, "If public transportation were available, how would you like to get here?" If I had my way, it would be by limo.

Skip the excuses. These folks mean business. "Even Don Cheadle was here," said the clerk, proudly, but only Brad Pitt and Jennifer Garner wannabes were in my group. No one is exempt, she added, "including, producers, musicians, you name it." I believed her – an acquaintance was recently on a drug case with Ron Rifkin, who plays Uncle Sal in one of my guilty pleasures, “Brothers & Sisters.” Apparently, a new law was passed forcing people to serve “one day, one trial,” so pleading self-importance or economic hardship is practically impossible.

Being on jury duty is like shooting craps. You never know if you'll hit the jackpot. Some people would love to get on a long case because their employer (particularly the federal government) will continue to pay them their full salary while they’re serving; others, who won’t be compensated for being out of the office, are desperate to return to work. In California, the court sends you a check for a whopping $15 a day, beginning with the second day of service, after you're done. If you're frugal, this might cover gas and lunch.

When you show up for the day, they can shuffle you around to various potential cases. If you are picked for a jury, you’re on the case until it’s settled. If you’re not selected by 5PM, you’re done with your civic duty for the year.

Movies like Jury Duty, Runaway Jury, The Juror, and 12 Angry Men capture the comedy and drama of serving, but my experience was less riveting. In the morning, my name came up for a “panel,” a group from which jurors may be selected for a particular trial. We were instructed to wait outside the doors of a specific courtroom until the attorneys could question us. Lawyers kept coming and going, and the clock tick-ticked. Then, panelists were assigned seat numbers. More to and fro by “the suits” (none of which dress as slick as the ones on The Deep End!) Finally, some guy emerged from the courtroom to notify us, “The case has been settled.”

We shuffled back to the jury room to wait until lunch, which is 12-1:30PM. A short video introduces you to a whirlwind of restaurants in the area, or you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for free by mentioning you’re a juror. A friend of mine happened to be working on the TV show, “24,” which was shooting a newsroom scene in the Los Angeles Times building two blocks away. They weren’t scheduled to break for lunch until 1PM, but I wandered down to say hello. En route, I bumped into some guys shooting a pilot called “Uncle Nigel” across the street at City Hall. I hope this means production is finally picking up here, despite the lack of incentives.

Miraculously, “24” broke early, so I joined my friend for a lovely lunch in a vacant parking lot, where they had set up base camp. No sign of Kiefer, though he's back. At least this little outing shook up the monotony of sitting under fluorescent lights with strangers in a crowded space.

Then, it was back to the jury room. High school memories flashed before me when the clerk called roll. If you failed to respond to your name, you would be ordered to appear another day. Of course, I yelled, “Here.”

Other people were picked for various panels, but I spent the rest of the afternoon reading Vanity Fair. At 4PM, the clerk announced that those of us in the jury room, who had not been selected for a panel or a jury, had completed service. When you’re name was called, you were presented with a green slip, certifying you had served, which was to be flashed at the parking attendant and shown to your employer, if you had one. It felt good to do my duty, but I was relieved when it was over… for now. Twelve months down the road the cycle can begin again if you're chosen.

Today, I would rather be chosen to win $50,000 via The Allure of Paris Las Vegas Sweepstakes. If you already have a trip scheduled, you can postpone jury duty. Do I really need to mention I’m going to Paris as in France, if I win? Roll the dice and enter.

VoilĂ  - the link to the The Allure of Paris Las Vegas Sweepstakes:



  1. Very cool writeup about jury duty. When I was on duty years ago the judge decided to prod further upon seeing my occupation was listed as "actor." During my answering I said that I had "played a lawyer or two." Within minutes I was LET GO. ;)

  2. This piece is quite comical; it makes jury duty seem almost entertaining! (Admittedly though I'm not necessarily looking forward to the day when I receive my next summons.) I, too, would rather be in Paris!