I was a jury-duty virgin.
They say it hurts the first time, and then you never want to do it again.
But I have an embarrassing little confession: I was looking forward to reporting for jury duty in June. For years I watched friends and colleagues being summoned, legally required to skip a day’s work, smirkily complaining about the banality of civic duty. It was a bitter, compulsory club, and I craved to belong. Finally, I’d been chosen.
So I got up early. I packed a notebook and a sandwich, like a third-grader going on a field trip to the morgue.
At the courthouse, I validated my parking and Tweeted a picture of the jury waiting room, which was like the DMV without all the entertainment. I watched a riveting video about jury duty and made friends with a lady sitting nearby, a real jury-duty whore who’d been summoned 10 times in the past two decades.
“They call you, but they never pick you,” she said. “We’re all gonna get dismissed. After waiting all day.”
I pulled out my sandwich. It was 8:43 a.m.
An hour later, the EMTs showed up. They loaded onto a stretcher a juror wannabe who’d been slouching just out of sight in the lounge. I Tweeted sensitively about it: Someone is leaving jury room on a stretcher. #youreexcused.
They finally called my number. I stood second in a line of about 50. The bailiff broke us into groups for the elevator ride to the 16th floor, Judge Douglas Smith’s courtroom.
For the prosecution: two ridiculously good-looking attorneys—think Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill. A beleaguered defense attorney stood next to the defendant, who had pleaded not guilty to robbery and gun-related charges. The accused sported slicked-back hair, a goatee and a neck tattoo, the top of which was just visible over his collar and tie. It looked like the upper stories of the twin towers, maybe. Or the tips of a set of wings. Or guilt.
I sat in the top row of the jury box, still second in line. There was a buzzy excitement in the air; this was the coolest thing that would happen to any of us all day.
The heavyset guy next to me took the microphone. Sandra Bullock asked him about his experience with firearms.
“I got shot four times in the back in Nayarit,” he said.
At least that’s what I remember him saying. I had respectfully stopped taking notes by now.
The attorneys on both sides seemed OK with Nayarit, so he handed the microphone to me. It felt good in my hands, real natural.
I gave the prosecution a quick rundown of my educational and professional résumé. (Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. Freelance writer. Winning smile.)
Could I be fair? “Yes,” I said, glancing uneasily at the neck tat.
The defense attorney wanted to know if I remembered the recent trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards, who was accused of campaign-finance fraud.
A woman named Bunny Mellon had given him $725,000, which he allegedly used to hide his mistress during the 2008 presidential campaign.
“What was her name again?” I asked.
A few people snickered.
“Bunny Mellon. But that’s not important now.”
He apparently had a point—something about the Edwards prosecutors’ failure to prove their case, which ended in a mistrial, and the general rule that accusers bear the burden of proof.
My ignorance of Bunny’s name notwithstanding, neither side had an immediate objection to me. I reluctantly passed the microphone to the next would-be juror.
The judge dismissed a woman who worked for the police department and a Greek immigrant who claimed to understand only 70 percent of the proceedings. Finally, Nayarit and I were joined in the jury box by a couple of teachers, a nanny, a woman whose nephew was locked up for murder, and eight others.
Everybody seemed satisfied, or resigned. We were a jury and two alternates! I would kick jury duty’s ass! I would sit in judgment of everybody in the building if necessary!
Then, out of nowhere, the judge murmured: “I would like to excuse Ms. Curtis and Mr. So-and-So.”
There was a stunned silence from me and Mr. So-and-So, who had identified himself earlier as an actor/magician/director/writer.
I drafted a Tweet in my head: Oh my God. I just got rejected from jury duty.
The judge earlier said getting dismissed was nothing personal, no reflection on you or your ability to serve on a jury, on your value as a human being. It didn’t mean you didn’t deserve to go on living, for example.
But it felt personal to me. I understood booting the actor/magician/director/writer—who has that many slashes in his title? But me? Hadn’t I dutifully shown up downtown at 8 a.m. on a Monday? Hadn’t I projected just the appropriate amount of juristy eagerness? Hadn’t I packed a sandwich?
Was it the Bunny Mellon thing?
The judicial branch blows, I mentally Tweeted.
The other reject and I slunk, heads hanging, out of the courtroom, as other prospective jurors looked on, already judging. In the elevator, we commiserated.
“Huh,” he said.
“Harsh,” I said.
We put our heads together, unable to make sense of what had just happened. We could think of nothing that would warrant kicking us off a jury. We had nothing at all in common.
“We’re both writers!” realized the actor/magician/director/writer.
“Right,” I said. “Maybe they’re afraid we’d write about it.”