Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jury duty, pt. 3

Remember when I said "and here my troubles began?" Normally you're only allowed to use that phrase once in a single product, but I think it applies here. I didn't know what I was about to get into; I thought the case was a fairly simple issue of judgment behind the wheel. It turns out that nothing is simple when people are asked to decide something, and certainly not when they've been given a whole week's worth of information to process on their own. The first day, we had only an hour before the building closed. We spent it selecting a presiding juror (a "foreman" in less-progressive states) and agreeing when to show up the next day. We also took a brief vote on the first question on the verdict form. The way it was set up, if the first question (to paraphrase, "did this bitch do something wrong?") were answered in the negative, we could go home immediately. No question of damages, breaking down culpability, or anything. That sounds great, but when you've spent so long on something you want to see it through and get your way. At least, I want those things. I've been described as something of a jerk.

During the five years and change I spent playing World of Warcraft (admittedly, I did other things during this time like graduate from college and start my career and have a girl ruin my life), I learned about the human race's infinite capacity for fucking up. It turns out that no matter the stimulus or piece of information presented, people have ways of seeing it differently. This might be a triumph of diversity or a testament to the spectrum of the human condition if it weren't for the fact that so many of those interpretations are wrong. The initial vote was split 6-6. It sounds awful, but this was a civil trial so only nine jurors needed to agree on any given verdict question. The way you're supposed to do it, you vote on one question at a time because the questions are set up in a logical order. The idea is to isolate debates on one question at a time, focusing on a single issue and eliminating the idea of "trading" votes on one question for another. It's a good idea. It doesn't work for even an instant.

Realizing that consensus needed forging, I went to work. I had specifically not put my name forward for presiding juror, because I anticipated having to argue with my fellow jurors (in legal parlance, "motherfuckers"). So I started pushing; clearly, to my mind, the defendant was negligent in driving. She chose to go through the yellow, and the video showed an easy window for the SUV to turn left. Remember, the SUV driver had settled already for an amount we weren't allowed to know. So what if the defendant had her line of sight blocked by another car? Going through the intersection when you don't know if anyone is turning left? That's actually worse to my mind, but I grew up in Boston where we actually take responsibility for our decisions. Californian drivers disagree. A Boston driver, tasked to explain all his on-road actions in retrospect, can do it. A Californian won't recall a single thing that happened, but will swear they hit their brakes. It's the ultimate description of why Californian drivers are awful: they think brake lights are fucking deflector shields.

So I went to work. I established that even 1% culpability from the defendant was enough for a "Yes" vote on the question of which this bitch fucked up. That got two votes; the rest were a group of four people. Among them, two old men, one Chinese lady, and a mom. It is not, in retrospect, surprising that these people would choose to defend poor driving as "normal." Four people were dead-set in their opposition to a single iota of responsibility for the defendant. Their resolution clearly bonded them to each other, in the worst and most predictable fashion. Has anyone else noticed that the phrases "worst" and "most predictable" describe 96% of human behavior? I needed one convert.

"Why can't you see how WRONG you are?" Or, how to swing a jury in four hours
People rarely make arguments based on substance. Most of what a given human being believes is a pungent stew of tribalism, emotion, and self-interest all coated with the veneer of calm consideration. If somebody's got a rational basis for 20% of what he believes, that's a reasonable person. Moving from this base, I started the process of persuasion. Defensiveness is one of the most intractable of human emotions, and when trying to turn over somebody's position you need to be careful. The natural human tendency is to retreat from any information that contradicts already-held belief, and so to convert somebody I couldn't engage them directly. In this, I had an unwitting ally: the "leader" of the other faction, a jowly red-faced 50something gentleman. He wasn't going to move; he was way too stubborn and way too emotionally invested in this case. But that gave me an easy target: somebody with whom I could aggressively disagree and not worry about permanently losing his vote. He was lost already, so I could drive a wedge between his extreme position and the rest of his faction. I attacked the unreasonable guy, and spared the folks who might swing. The key was just getting those "attacks," out. I use scare quotes because none of this is personal; I actually like this gentleman.

It took about four hours to hem him in. I could have done it faster, but part of managing the jury room is not talking too much. If you're seen as dominating the discussion to an unreasonable degree, folks will resent you. The key is to pick your spots: arguments you can make and win, to which you'll really commit. If a point of discussion is secondary or tertiary to your main point, sit and keep your mouth shut. It's important to let people talk and feel like they're contributing, even if what they have to say is stupid or irrelevant.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, the Filipina grandma was just the worst. Between her and the heavily-accented Chinese man, it was a circus of non sequiturs. They would insist on getting an un-interrupted chance to speak, and then spend two minutes making some point that mattered not a bit to ANYBODY and typically mis-interpreted the last 30 minutes of debate. These people are on juries all the time. Thank fucking Christ they started on my side. I'll note, the Filipina grandma was against me until I explained what a "no" vote on the first question actually meant. Again, these people serve on jury. It's probably best to avoid any crimes for this reason.

Eventually, I had the other side pinned down: an assertion by Max that ANY conduct that's legal cannot by definition be negligent. The defendant, in the absence of any left-turning vehicle, could have gotten four wheels in the intersection. Therefore she couldn't be at fault; not even a little. If you're thinking "that's absurd," you are correct. Welcome to Team Tony. Once this was on the table, I turned the screws on the young mom: couldn't you take plenty of legal actions in the presence of your children that would be inappropriate, unreasonable or negligent? Of course, the answer was yes. Faced with the contradiction, I expected her to double down. I expected to drive home really fast on the lunch recess to do shots of rum and lament the human condition, but NOT SO. This woman actually flipped her vote along with another gentleman. After four hours, I had finally shrunk the opposing argument to the size where I could throttle it with my bare hands.

And with that, the baby had crowned. This was the single hardest question for us to answer, the question that determined the rest of the case for the most part. Over the next few hours we hammered out some damages; it wasn't difficult once we agreed to some basic parameters. The Bloc of Four was always a problem, and remained pretty resolute that zero damages could be considered. They were hanging together at this point basically out of tribalism and admitted as such; it was not enough to force some self-evaluation. At the point where you realize you're making arguments based on an emotional attachment to prior arguments...well, I don't know what you're supposed to do at that point. Either change your tune, or set yourself on fire.

We didn't award many damages. I'd have liked more, but we always had to get at least one vote from the Bloc of Four and the numbers got skewed downwards to something pretty minimal (but something we could live with--this motorcyclist got seriously injured through no fault of his own). The plaintiff had screwed up himself, eschewing some diagnostic tests that probably would have revealed some lasting damage. I don't know how you spend that much time and money on an injury lawsuit without getting a fucking MRI, but that's what happened. The highlight of this second act was the leader of the Bloc of Four stating, in all seriousness, that he didn't think the defendant's negligence (remember, we've agreed to this and it's part of the official record) contributed to the plaintiff's injuries. At the point where we've agreed the pickup truck was negligent, and it plowing into the SUV caused the injury, how could anyone argue this? His verbatim line: "maybe the sidewalk impact caused the injury." Where did the kinetic energy come from to propel him to the sidewalk? Christ. Luckily, this was far too stupid for the others in the Bloc and we got some headway.

When all was said and done, we knocked on the door and told the bailiff we had a verdict. He had to open the door, naturally, because we were locked in the room by law. Doesn't seem fire-safe, does it? We came back into the courtroom and the judge read the verdict. No palpable reaction from either party of their lawyers, though the defendant's lawyer asked that the jury be polled. What's that? Well, it turns out that in California you can ask for a reading of the verdict with every juror chiming in to say if he voted for it. Not a big deal in criminal trials, as you might imagine, but if a civil lawyer gets a chance to drag out the proceedings he's honor-bound to take it. So everyone had to go through every line of the jury form stating whether they voted for it. I said "correct" every time; the opposition leader might have said it once on a minor question. I got what I wanted. And isn't that what justice is all about?

Side note 1: The lawyers wanted to speak with the jurors outside the courtroom after everything was done. Most jurors went home; I stuck around, since I'd invested so much time and effort already. The lawyers were great; legitimately interested in what we thought of their performance and what we'd found persuasive. They were very friendly with each other, and disclosed that the original settlement (with the SUV driver) had been $100,000. Additionally, everything from the collision to the plaintiff's medical expenses had been covered by ample and generous insurance. Why then, you might ask, did we go through all this bullshit? Because children can't agree on anything and need grown-ups to make their decisions for them, apparently.

Side note 2: in the hallway outside the courtroom right before the verdict was delivered, we saw the judge. Prior to that point, he'd always been up on his bench (throne, if you'd prefer). He would enter and exit the room through a door behind the bench, so he seemed very mysterious and powerful. Or some shit. Anyway, this was the first time I'd actually seen the man standing there. He was maybe, generously, five foot five. I pictured little pointy shoes beneath his robe. They'd have bells on the toes, but they'd be taped down with black electrical tape to keep from jingling while he walked. Gotta maintain decorum.

Side note 3: The fact that I was selected for this jury reflects poorly on the judgment of both attorneys. Having a juror like myself in the jury room--an outspoken, opinionated, educated person feeling no compulsion to listen to trial lawyers or bought-and-paid-for "expert witnesses"--is exactly what they should try to avoid. The court system treats the decision-making process like a dangerous weapon, so why give that dangerous weapon to the guy with the crazy eyes fingering it hungrily? I love to argue and take the process very seriously. You don't want me on your jury. On the upside, if I'm ever put in the box again I can get out of it. A brief recounting of my past jury-room experience should be enough to send any halfway competent lawyer running for the hills.

Last thoughts
First, I think the civil trial system is bullshit. If a citizen is asked to serve on a criminal jury, that's a public service. You're acting as a check against arbitrary action and helping to ensure your own protection by jury trial (should you ever be accused of a crime like possession of all the drugs you typically possess). But whom was I serving all those days and all those hours? It wasn't the state; it was the plaintiff, the defendant, and their lawyers. Dispute resolution is a specialty that lawyers pay thousands of dollars for; but why bother when we can just ask the addled Filipina grandmother and the over-opinionated metalhead to do that work for free? Juror compensation needs to be higher in general, but it really should be higher for civil trials, since the plaintiff and defendant can just pay out of pocket. That would provide a powerful incentive to resolve disputes before reaching trial, which is something I think we can all get behind. If your issue is that important or you have that much money, take it all the way. I guess this is my point: lawsuits can be valuable, but this one sure wasn't.

All that time, all that public and private expenditure, to try and wheeze a little better result out of the system than you might have got otherwise? Ugh. The upside is that I think justice really was served: though the letter of the law favored the defendant, she fucked up in a major way and put other people at risk. Somebody was hurt, and damages will be paid. At the same time, the breakdown of blame we did at the end favored the extremist "zeroes" of the Bloc of Four. The total restitution paid by the defendant will be about $5,000, paling in comparison to any of the legal expenses or even the cost of hiring one expert witness. Everyone loses, and those fuckers deserve it for not coming to a settlement. By the way, the proposed settlement before the trial was $25,000 (we couldn't know this in the jury room, obviously). The plaintiff turned it down, thinking he could get more in a trial. I would have actually liked to see him get more, but FUCK YOU for turning down that kind of cash with a hundred-grand already on the table.

Which brings us to the final lesson of this long, long tale. I'm very happy if you read this far, because I know it's been long. I'm not even sure how interesting this is to an outside observer. I know I learned a lot from these experiences, but the crucial lesson is really the repeating theme of human existence: everything is terrible, and people fuck everything up. If accused of a crime, I would absolutely want a jury trial. But I would be terrified of the bored-looking stooges in that little wooden box.

Life is great and worth living; everyone should keep living it. But please, PLEASE try to think about what you're doing. Just try to be less of an asshole. Except if the folks on the other side of the jury table are WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jury duty, pt. 2

The Trial
The trial started on Friday, the prior two days consumed entirely by jury selection. The jurors assembled outside the courtroom at 9am; I was still uncomfortable talking to any of them. One of the old guys was basically Butters from South Park, aged sixty years and made less adorable. The dorky hopelessness was all there. Still, if you wanted to talk to anybody it had to be one of the old guys. The old ladies would chatter amongst themselves in Tagalog and everyone else was absorbed in her cell phone. I had my book and headphones, which together provide a pretty airtight seal against human interaction. This makes my life better in so many ways, and I figured there'd be plenty of time to get to know these people.

Complicating everything was a series of admonitions that the judge stated before EVERY recess: don't do any independent research, don't talk about any aspect of the case especially with your fellow jurors, and (most importantly, quoth he) don't form any opinions in your spare time. This was a recurring theme of jury service and the judge really took pains to stress it: not developing opinions. It's an odd request to make of people whose lives you're hijacking for the express purpose of forming opinions, but it reveals something larger about the justice system. They're very aware of the fact that they need jurors to resolve disputes and keep the entire system running, but they're terrified of the actual decision making process. In theory, you're not supposed to form any opinions until the whole trial is done. Only once all the evidence has been presented and the closing arguments made, and only once all the jurors are in the deliberating room, are you supposed to form ANY opinions. The government would like you to remain a blank-slate drone who absorbs the information presented to your stupid face, right up until you're all locked together in the jury room (yes, they lock the door). They treat the decision-making process as though it were live explosives, rolling a grenade into the jury room before sealing it off and plugging their ears.

The trial actually started, even before opening arguments, with a playback of a video. To set the scene, this was a three-vehicle collision at a major intersection with a four-way traffic light and no protected left turns. There was a control camera at the intersection, so the accident was captured for all to see! They ran through the tape a few times, which was nice because there was a lot to look at. An SUV trying to make a left turn has to wait for the yellow to go. As she goes, a pickup truck trying to make the light blows through the intersection and strikes the SUV. The SUV's rear swings around and strikes a motorcycle stopped at the red light, blowing the rider off his bike. And...scene.

Opening Pitch presented by Geico
The opening arguments are sort of confusing; they're talking about evidence that'll be presented and witnesses that will be called to prove X and Y and such. About half these things actually happened during the trial, and by the end the claims had shifted. So, tip for future jurors: spend this time daydreaming or examining the faces of the court staff for funny faces. They didn't want us taking notes during the lawyers' arguments (not evidence, they said), so doodling was hard. The biggest highlight of the opening arguments was the defendant's lawyer, who had giant coke-bottle glasses and an annoying habit of walking around the entire courtroom while he spoke. In high school speech competitions, there were certain kids who actually spent time working on their speech-walking. They'd hit certain spots on the floor for each part of the speech, and it ultimately described a weird kind of triangle where you ended up at the exact same spot you started. If you plotted it out, it looks like an Illuminati pyramid with the start/endpoint being that laser-eye at the apex. This will all be covered in National Treasure 3. Or The Da Vinci Code 3. Or Deus Ex 3. Or some shit.

Side note: if there's anything we should have learned from the past few years, it's that major international conspiracies are just as impossible as alien visitors. I mean "impossible" in a physical, scientific sense: just as the aliens are constrained by the speed of light, any conspiracy is naturally constrained by the incredible human capacity for fucking up. The world economy is crippled by problems that we know how to solve, but can't convince ourselves even exist. These people are not capable of grand, intricate conspiracies. They can barely tie their own shoes or keep their hands off big-butted Sofitel staff.

The plaintiff's lawyer was an unfortunate-looking man. It's not easy being a short, pudgy, middle-aged Jew, though Jason Alexander seems to have had a good run for the last thirty years. He was not a handsome man, a little rodent-y, but this guy did himself no favors. He sported a greasy, pencil-thin mustache. His tightly-curled Jewfro hair was a little long, but it was a weird length. It was cornrow-length; as though his neck were his legs and his hair were a pair of capris. It was pulled back into a natty little salt-and-pepper knot at the back of his skull. My father sports a ponytail that I'm willing to defend; this was not defensible from a man who actually has a full head of hair. Between the strange bun and the little mustache (not to mention the garish yellow ties and vests that made him look like a penguin), it was a comedy of unforced errors. Speaking of which, he was unable to pronounce any of the medical terms deployed in the case, like "encephalocele." The defendant's lawyer had only a little more medical knowledge, but he could at least say human words with his mouth. After the opening arguments (mercifully brief), we started with witnesses.

The evidence
The witnesses themselves weren't too remarkable. There were only about half as many as promised, and for that I'm extremely grateful. The trial proceeded at the glacial pace demanded by our somnolent judge, who really struggled to stay awake in the sessions just before and after lunch. He had a great face when the sleepies got overwhelming: a sort of grouchy, old-man-chewing-even-with-no-food-in-there set to his jaw. The old guys in the jury had similar problems, but everyone else was really professional. The court reporters were highly competent and totally silent at all times, which was extra scary because they wore a LOT of makeup and had earrings as big as my fist.

Being in court wasn't as bad as I thought; having recently been through secondary school and college, I'm accustomed to the idea of sitting in a chair and taking notes while somebody drones on for ninety minutes. And thanks to the schedule of the court, you never go much more than ninety without a break (appropriately called "recess"). Lunch was ninety minutes on its own, which was enough time for me to drive home and make a sandwich and play with my puppy. Being a juror in the County of San Mateo pays a grand total of fifteen dollars per day, plus mileage. It's insulting to actually think of it as pay, so I consider it a per diem. Specifically, it pays for transportation, lunch, and the booze you'll need every night when you get home.

The evidence was unremarkable. Honestly, we could have decided the case with a reading of the relevant laws and a copy of the video. The expert witnesses were a mix of doctors and "accident reconstruction specialists," which I guess is a thing these days. It sounds like a good gig; regardless of the economy, people will keep fucking up and crashing their cars. They helped to establish some basic facts, but nothing that ended up mattering in deliberations. They were paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to appear and say these things, in addition to the thousands they billed for their preparatory pre-trial work. If I make $200 a week I'm happy. Just keeping everything in perspective.

These witnesses established that the defendant (the pickup truck driver; the SUV driver had already settled for an amount we weren't allowed to know) could have stopped for the yellow/red, but chose not to. They also established that her line of vision was blocked by other cars, so at the point where she saw the SUV she couldn't have stopped. Essentially, both of them made poor decisions. As for the medical evidence, the plaintiff had three main problems: headaches, shoulder pain, and a testicular surgery he'd undergone following the accident. That's right, we got to talk about balls. A lot. The surgery was for a pre-existing condition that was non-painful but wacky: essentially, harmless golf-ball-sized cysts inside the scrotum. There were all kinds of lost-wages and economic harm claims, because the plaintiff was a small business owner. It was a mess, and there was a lot of repetitive testimony that shed remarkably little light on everything.

The defendant's attorney was enamored with his deposition book, and during every cross-examination would try and needle the witness about any semantic differences between his testimony and his deposition from a year prior. UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY, as he said. He really liked that phrase. I imagine it's the lawyer equivalent of those giant foam noodles people brought to the local pool. You know, the ones that every young boy in history has immediately picked up and used as a comically floppy sword? The lawyers are the young boys, swinging these weapons that don't hurt anyone but land with a satisfying THWACK. PERJURY. HAH! I see the appeal, but it was a singularly un-appealing tactic for the jury. This isn't a boxing match; we're not keeping score and awarding you points for landing a blow. Between the video (which I thought showed terrible judgment on the defendant's part) and her lawyer's skeevy tactics, I wasn't sympathetic to that side. OH NO I FORMED AN OPINION!

Kyra Sedwick is the Closer, even though it looks like her mouth could unhinge and open like a python's
Closing arguments. These were absolutely brutal, and the fact that they were at the end of the trial didn't help. At least the witnesses were being asked questions, so the back-and-forth kept everyone awake. In the closing arguments, the lawyers just get to talk for basically as long as they want. In the past, this took days. It's the only part of the court system that's gotten faster over the years. The plaintiff's closing argument was a full hour and I thought that was bad; not so. The defendant's lawyer took over two hours for his closing argument, though to be fair he knew there was a brief rebuttal coming. He spent the entire two hours talking in circles, walking in circles, and engaging in bait-and-switch sophistry. Those semantic differences between the witness testimony and their depositions? MAJOR ISSUE. His first declaration: "this case is about two things: fear and greed." Two minutes later, he's telling us to "pay attention to the scientific details in this case." I'm sorry, there was no expert witness to explain to me the science of FEAR AND GREED. When the man thought he was making a particularly clever point, he'd get this little smirk just so we'd know how clever it all was. He also took a shot at a vacation the plaintiff took with his children when he was "supposedly disabled." Really, you're going there? I know we've been given instructions not to consider sympathy, but it's hard NOT to feel sympathy for this man when you're being such a dick to him.

Eventually it was over; the plaintiff's rebuttal to the defendant's enormous closing statement was a brutally efficient rebuttal. He hit every major point in a fraction of the time I thought he'd need. It was a shining moment of competence, which was frankly startling given how badly both lawyers screwed up their arguments with regard to the medical evidence. Trial lawyers are just highly-trained arguers; you'd think their expertise in the subject would really matter, but it turns out bullshit is a kind of universal firmament. We were read a final round of instructions by the judge (ninety minutes of lowest-common-denominator bullshit) and whisked off to the jury room. This has already been long, and I'm leaving out a ton of events because I wasn't actually doing anything for them. We're nine days plus a weekend into jury duty, and I've spent the ENTIRE TIME just sitting there quietly taking notes. In the third part, I'll detail the deliberations. Spoiler: I owned face.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jury Duty, pt.1

The First Day
At noon two Wednesdays ago--September 28, for the sake of posterity--I had just finished up some work. I was feeling good. Bella was amped up and fussy, and I was about to take her to the park for some frisbee action. But a little bell kept going off in my head. "Tony," quoth it, "isn't there something else you're supposed to do today?" And suddenly that bell was a giant clanging siren, screaming "JURY DUTY JURY DUTY YOU STUPID ASSHOLE." It was right on two counts: I did in fact have jury duty that day, and I was a stupid asshole for forgetting it.

Rushing downstairs, I quickly find the San Mateo County envelope. I knew exactly where it was all along, but I never put it on my desk upstairs. Here's how the mail works the The Humboldt: if it's on the table downstairs with a hundred other articles of shit and about five pounds of spare change, I'm not going to think about it. Unimportant things go there. Important things like bills and court summonseseseses go upstairs on my desk, which is a surface containing the polar opposite psychic charge from the table. Which is to say, anything on the desk becomes a constant source of anxiety, possibly to the point of disrupting sleep. I wish there were some happy medium between these two spaces, but there isn't. The jury summons should have gone on one space; it went on the other. Sprinting upstairs with the letter, I enter my jury pool ID into the court website. This was supposed to happen the night before, so I'm desperately hoping they told me I didn't have to come in.

No dice; I had to report. But somehow the Gods smiled on me--one of the few times I can remember such an obvious bit of serendipity. Instead of the typical 8:30am summons, I didn't have to show up until 12:30pm! Checked the clock: 12:20. I'd expected to be totally screwed and have a "failure to appear" on my hands--instead I was only a little bit screwed! So I took Bella to pee, apologized to her, and ran out the door. The screwage turned out to be less severe than I thought, and I slipped into the initial juror orientation meeting about ten minutes late. Easy. Doing fine. Despite not knowing I even had jury duty at 12:15, here I was at the courthouse by 12:45.

And here my troubles began. The meeting was innocuous enough, and I'd missed almost nothing in the first ten minutes. Something you learn very quickly about the juror system: like the military, it's geared towards the lowest common denominator. It's designed to ensure that the absolute least qualified zero can succeed so long as he can follow directions. What this means as an intelligent person is that you can just ignore 90% of what you hear. The only important information: where you need to be and when. There is also a video that you have to watch, where former jurors talk enthusiastically about their experiences. On the scale of instructional videos, I'd rank it somewhere above an airline safety video and somewhere below a PSA telling family to devise fire escape plans. The latter ones often include some sweet stock footage of burning houses.

There were sixty-two people in my jury pool. The judge had all of us brought up to the 8th floor, which took about twenty minutes given the limited elevators. He explained in basic terms the case before the court: a civil case concerning a three-vehicle accident back in 2007. He stated they'd need twelve jurors and two alternates: fourteen people out of sixty-two. Great odds, right? I was optimistic. So naturally, my name was the very first one called from the computer-randomized list. A minute later, the other chairs were filled. I figured I still had a pretty good chance; from what I know, trial lawyers hate several things in jurors. Among them are education, creativity (particularly in their job), and familiarity with the subject matter. Given that this was a personal injury case and I deal with personal injuries all day in my work, I figured this was a slam dunk. I'd be out of here in no time and one of the other sixty people would be in my place. That's when the judge turned to me and says, "All right, Mr. Palumbi. Tell us about yourself; your education, your background, what you do for a living." It's a totally open-ended question, and seventy total strangers (including the plaintiff, defendant, and their lawyers) are staring right at me as I'm expected to talk about myself.

This is basically my worst nightmare that doesn't involve fire ants. My response was something that's happened in other situations, mostly when meeting new girlfriends' parents. I engaged my high-school debating instincts. I was a pretty good debater in high school ("were you a MASTER debater? Hurr hurr hurr") and it gave me an invaluable skill. In public, when called upon, I can speak eloquently at high speed about basically any subject for basically any length of time. Given the right motivation, I could extol the virtues of grapefruit for eight solid minutes, and you would think pretty highly of what you heard. It would all be bullshit, and I hate the bitterness of grapefruit, but you get the idea. So this is basically what I did in court--ran my goddamned mouth. I focused on the particulars of my work, since I was counting on this to bail me out of jury duty. Because I was nervous (remember the seventy strangers, and me being the first to speak), I cared nothing for brevity. The judge eventually stopped me, asking "Do you always talk this much, Mr. Palumbi?" I was mortified, but somehow managed to force a smile and tell him I did. I do, by the way. I talk all the goddamned time. I can either project a gregarious over-sharer, or be sullen and quiet in the corner. I wish there were more than two options, but I wished that about the table and the desk too.

I kept the rest of my answers short. I felt shitty for wasting everyone's time. But I had no idea what the judge was really like; over the course of the next few hours, he went through all the other jurors on the stand. All went into considerable detail about themselves, but the judge was practically determined to slow down the proceedings. He would ask questions dovetailing with his own personal experiences; one woman mentioned she'd gone to the University of Michigan, and the judge started asking her questions about whether she'd ever seen or been inside their new law library. Which is apparently gorgeous. So there's that, if you ever find yourself spending an idle day in Ann fucking Arbor. Another man's last name prompted the judge to ask if he was any relation to a woman with the same surname. The name? GUPTA. It's an Indian guy named Gupta, how many of those could there be? Only about 150 million on the planet and five million in this country. And this man being no relation didn't spare us, either. The judge went ahead and explained his connection to this woman whom NOBODY KNEW. He also spoke...very...deliberately. It was murder.

The ways people try to weasel out of jury duty when they're actually in the box are amazing and hilariously transparent. I didn't raise any substantial objections to serving; I had no real bias or legitimate problems that rose to the level the judge specified (he specifically used the example of a loved one being on her deathbed. But many didn't go down so easily. A Filipina woman (there were many in the pool) stated she didn't want to serve on a jury, because her Catholic faith prohibited her from passing judgment on others. Now, I'm pretty sure that judging other people consumes roughly 40% of a typical Catholic's day, but leaving that aside: these people hosted the SPANISH INQUISITION. How on Earth could anyone make such a blatantly false theological claim?

The judge was all over it, noting the only recognized group with such a prohibition are 7th-day Adventists. Something to look into the next time that jury duty slip comes around. But then he went off on his own special tangent, asking the woman if she was familiar with St. Thomas More. This is a 30something Filipina nurse who was clearly not raised in this country, or fucking England. The judge pointed out that More was a famous litigator and judge in addition to being a sainted Catholic, which is basically where I thought he was going. But he goes further, explaining not only the fact that More was executed but specifically why (his opposition to Henry VIII's remarriage). He then goes even further, explaining the parentage for both Ann Boleyn (I don't remember) and Catherine of Aragon (she was the daughter of Kind Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain!). All sixty jurors are dumbfounded. The lawyers and parties have poker faces. Things are weird. And of course, this little woman can do nothing but repeat her original (retarded) position. Ugh. The event proceeds until around 5pm, when the judge lets us all go home.

"But Tony," you ask, "what about the other sixty people?" We all had to come back for a second day of jury seletion. The process was such a glacially slow clusterfuck that sixty people (the vast majority of whom would never spend one moment in the juror's box) had to take a second day off work and re-appear to watch other people get interviewed by lawyers and a long-winded judge. Most of them slept or played games on their smartphones. The bailiff didn't care as long as everything was quiet. He was a pretty chill guy, for a mean old cop. Of the original fourteen in the box, eight were eventually dismissed. The folks who took their places were dismissed pretty rapidly, and the lawyers were given eight challenges each. There was a cranky Indian man who believed his self-employment should exempt him and claimed he would never vote with the plaintiff because he was "wasting my time by forcing me to be here." Yes, just you and only you. Another man claimed he'd been in a motorcycle accident six months prior that was nearly identical to the one described, and stated he could never vote with the defendant. A lot of people made up these claims, and stubbornly repeated them even as the judge and lawyers tried to unearth reasonability. All the real assholes got let go--this is a good lesson about how the world works, and how society is geared to privilege assholes. In any civilized discussion, the least reasonable person wins. Remember this for later.

Eventually we had our fourteen. Five men, none (save myself) younger than fifty. Nine women, ranging in age from 29 to 60something. One was legitimately hot; another was sneaky-hot. It's hard to describe. Anyway, on Wednesday at 12:15 the thought of jury duty hadn't even crossed my mind. By Thursday at 4:30, I was officially Juror #1 in the case of Gardner v. Lane. Despair was sinking into my fellow jurors. They were realizing that the next week or two or their lives would be consumed by what essentially mounted to a giant steaming pile of bullshit. Some had been blindsided, like the young mom who was the very last picked from the pool late Thursday. That would have been worse, I think--sitting for two days in silence, watching the box, thinking "At least I've dodged this bullet and they'll eventually let me go." And then, right at the end, you get thrown up in the box and accepted and suddenly HAH YOU'RE FUCKED. I got two whole days to internalize exactly how fucked I was, and to reach a level of acceptance.

And what of acceptance? Well, the attitude I adopted (which I heartily recommend for others in the same situation) was essentially the attitude I have at the airport. See, I hate traveling. I dread it in advance, I hate it while it's ongoing, and unlike most people I just can't get excited about the destination until we're there. It's called being a pill. Anyway, I adopt the following stance at the airport: I am being cast into a giant machine. It's far larger than me, and I have no control over any aspect of it. I'm simply entering one end of the machine, and I know that it must eventually spit me out the other side. I don't worry about anything that appears to be a disruption, like delayed flights or sudden court recesses--they're just part of the system. I don't hope for good things to happen--they probably won't, and if they do they're also part of the system. Eventually I will materialize on the other side. I just need to read a book and listen to music and ignore the awful sea of humanity around me until it's over.

Part two, next: the actual trial itself! Part three will be deliberations. And yeah, it's been six months. Thanks for reading.