Serving hard time (Best Of)
Los Osos, Calif.
The justice system sentenced me to a day in their custody last week. I got called for jury duty.
There were a couple reasons I didn’t call in sick. Number one, I thought it was my responsibility as a good citizen and number two, the $5 per day they were offering as pay that day was more than I was currently making.
During my day in court the jurors got treated worse than the criminals. Those on trial were out walking the halls, but we jurors were incarcerated in a crowded room with 90 people on their cell phones, no food and two restrooms. Our punishment was severe, we had to sit for hours watching daytime soap operas as we waited for justice to beckon. Needless to say the waiting put everyone in a bad mood. Not only because there seemed to be a complete disregard for our welfare, but we all knew even if we found somebody guilty they would probably spend less time in jail than we did in court.
Finally, the armed bailiff came and got us and perp walked us through the halls of justice. Onlookers gawked and must have thought the prison bus had just arrived.
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I had never been in a real courtroom before.
“Which one is the attorney?” I asked a fellow juror I had bonded with.
“He’s the real sleazy looking one,” came the reply.
The judge explained the case, said it would take about two days of our time and asked if there was anyone who had a valid reason why they could not serve on the jury. We all had plenty of time to think up some good excuses. I explained I was self employed, was a writer on deadline and the defendant was my cousin. The judge excused me from that case.
But just because you are excused on one case does not mean you are free from your responsibilities. I was taken back to the holding cell where I waited and waited, wondering if I would ever see daylight again. In the late afternoon all of those who had been excused by the first judge were marched into a new courtroom with a different judge. He announced this case would last two months and then asked if for any reason any of us should be excused. One man explained he had a hearing aid and could not hear well. To my surprise the judge refused to excuse him. I knew justice was supposed to be blind but deaf, too?
The hanging judge wouldn’t even let the guy go who was wearing a Hell’s Angel’s jacket, an NRA cap, and a Budweiser shirt and who claimed to know both attorneys on a first name basis. The judge refused the single mother with four kids, the doctor with operations scheduled, the man who was interrupting his vacation and the mother of one of the witnesses. There were some great excuses offered but he turned them all down. So when it came my turn I decided to do something drastic … I decided to tell the truth.
“I am a writer your honor, and there are thousands of people waiting by their mailboxes every week to read what I write.”
Evidently the judge was illiterate because he refused to free me.
“But wait a minute your honor.” I threw myself on the mercy of the court. “I am also a cattleman and you are aware that we are currently experiencing a drought. So I must be excused to feed my cattle every day or they will die.”
“Couldn’t somebody else feed them for you?” the judge asked.
“There is my wife,” I answered. “But somebody has to drive the truck for her while she feeds.”
In the end I received a fair trial. I was the only one in that group freed from jury duty. Seeing what good results I got with my story, the doctor tried to buy my cows and I had several offers from other jurors to help me feed if I would only tell the judge how badly their services were needed. But I declined all of their plea deals and walked out of that courtroom a free man.
I had to cover my eyes in the glare of the setting sun and was surprised at how much the world had changed during my incarceration. ❖
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