November 15, 2004

From Gerald R. Lucas

Jury Duty

Being a responsible and concerned citizen of Bibb County, GA — or just a registered voter — I was duly summoned for jury duty today. Being somewhat of a romantic who has read his Plato and Robert Heinlein, I have always felt that being a citizen should be a responsibility that should be earned, like freedom, not bestowed, like a name. While I am aware of the many problems that this ideology encompasses (I don’t want to hear it, R), being a citizen should be something that we all take seriously, at least from time to time. That means, according to Ezra Pound (what’s with all the fascists today?), that you are to do something, not just think about what is to be done. Thus, when jury duty presented itself, I stymied my urge to try to get out of it, and decided to gladly accept my responsibility as a citizen. OK, maybe not gladly.

Despite my romantic musings — perhaps in spite of them — I showed up early at the Bibb County Court House only to sit around for three hours being talked to condescendingly by His Honor, being told where to sit and when to stand (why don’t people stand for me when I walk into the classroom? Maybe if I wore my regalia?), listening to pedantic questions from two sets of attorneys, and basically sitting on my ass and examining the freckles on the backs of my hands and wondering when I last trimmed my nails. I was never called to do anything except to answer “here” when my name was called, very like homeroom on the first day of school.

While I sat there, occasionally paying attention to the excruciating proceedings — even the judge’s head rested lazily on his hand at several points — I thought about some things, mainly that the jury summons should have included a directive to bring something to bloody read! since you’ll be sitting there most of the time as bored as George W. Bush thinking about foreign policy. Coulda. Shoulda. Anyway, I was struck by how much the courtroom looked like a church. We “peers” sat in the pews, and, man, were they hard. At least I remember my church having cushions on the otherwise cross-hard oak. Any padding would have kept the blood circulating in my ass, so that I wasn’t squirming like a child in church. At one point I caught myself looking around for the kneeler and the hymnal. Also like church, we had to stand, sit, and make gestures when commanded; no genuflection or signs of the cross, but it was amazing how the solemnity of the place prompted rote motions of the body learned all those catholic years ago.

The judge sat behind the altar, with his acolytes spread out in front and to either side. Behind him on the wall the familiar crucifix was represented by the flags and dais of state that reminded me vaguely of the tabernacle. An Alabamian marble edifice of the ten commandments would not have struck me as out-of-place. I have expected an altar boy to show up before the ceremony and light some candles on the judge’s payer table, set out the wine and water, and kneel for a few moments before the processional began. I guess the bailiffs are akin to the altar boys, except these two were older men; perhaps that what happens to altar boys when they retire? Hope the pay’s better. The attorneys seemed like the eucharistic ministers, there under the watchful eye of the priest, who always has the final say. Yet, in this mass, communion lasted forever.

I guess we potential jurors were like the choir, rehearsing for a position in the empty choir box, just to the judge’s right. While the pomp and circumstance of the mass of state was interesting at first, the pews were uncomfortable as hell, and I just wanted to be finished. My name was one of the last on the clerk’s roll, so far down that I began to wonder if I had shown up on the correct day. Anyone know what they do to the people who never show? Those bad citizens. In all, about 75 people were present, out of which three juries of six were needed for the week. I always thought juries were composed of twelve peeps; where did I get that?

It soon became clear to me that the two cases that needed juries selected for today were quite trivial from the information I inferred from the ministers’ questions. I would tell you about them, but I think I’m not supposed to, or they select me for jury duty again. I distinctly remember some question about “hair extensions.” Hmm. Fascinating. So this is what it’s like being a citizen.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, a citizen’s time is worth $20 a day. Can’t wait to be called again.