Last week at 8am, with a jury summons in hand, I headed down to the ol’ Halls of Justice and sat with 30 other sleepy-eyed draftees.  After watching a video which stated many times over, “We know you don’t wanna be here, but it’s your civic duty,” and other state-sponsored slogans that could be patriotically summarized as, “You’re lucky we picked you . . . you’re a winner!”  After being escorted upstairs to chambers, I was among the twelve contestants selected to sit in the jury box because lawyers always want at least one long-haired, liberal, white guy.  We stood when the judge appeared and got our first look at the defendant.  The man was being charged with domestic violence against his wife . . . and the bastard looked guilty! 

How do I know?  When I had passed behind him on my way up to the jury box, I smelled cigarette smoke, his eyes were ruddy from drinking all night, he was hunched over and never made eye contact with any of the women in the room.  If I was going to write a character description of a wife abuser, then he’d be middle aged, overweight, slightly balding, hands calloused from hard labor, insecure, misogynistic, a smoker and a drinker.  But that’s not reality.  That’s just how I would write it.  Most abusers are clean cut and smell nice. 

We each were asked a series of questions about ourselves to gauge our level of education, family background, career choice, hobbies, and reading preferences.  Essentially, the prosecution and the defense lawyers were searching for bias and in this case, my prejudice would soon be evident. 

In this town, most of the jury members were born and raised here, eked out a GED, work in the service industry or in the trades such as construction, and they come home exhausted after a long day to watch sit-coms.  So, hypothetically speaking, if one were to say they have a Master’s degree, grew up on the East Coast, writes for the local paper, volunteers at a soup kitchen and is reading Camus, to which even the judge asks, “Who?”, then there is a good chance you’ll get booted.  But how do you make sure?

A young woman said she had pressing family matters.  Another said she had worked late and couldn’t focus.  One guy refused to answer the questions, called the interview exercise a “stupid, little show n’ tell.”  Well, the judge wasn’t having any of this nonsense, not in his court.  The judge calmly stated this case would take a day or two at the most, but if they couldn’t perform their civic duty today, he would gladly ask them to come back next week for a death penalty trial that could take up to five months.  Postures stiffened and it was “Yes-sir” and “No-sir” after that.     

Apparently, begging and pleading with the judge doesn’t work.  Your only chance lies with persuading one for the lawyers to boot you.  Use big words, sit up straight, speak clearly and slowly, and take your time answering the questions with deliberate pauses.  Lawyers want dumb juries because uneducated people are easy to persuade and because knowledge leads to bias.  Wait, did I just make a case against public education?  Yet, Jefferson wrote something like, “A well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.”  Or was it, “Democracy is run by rich, white, plantation-owners.”  I always get those two quotes mixed up.

I wanted to get picked for the jury, I really did.  I wanted to throw this guy in the slammer for beating his wife.  I could have said, “I’m a teacher.”  Every jury needs at least one teacher to serve as the foreman.  Unfortunately, I’m honest about my deception.   

I stated that I teach a women’s self-defense class.  Dismissed.  What about the 20-year-old who was recently beaten by her boyfriend?  Dismissed.  And the woman who served at an advocacy center for child abuse?  Dismissed.   It’s sad that any personal experience proves prejudice.  Therefore, prove you have experience with the subject but here's the important part:  You also have to say, “Of course your Honor, my experience of helping women fight back against their drunk, abusive, asshole boyfriends/husbands will not affect my judgment,” when everyone in the room knows you just got booted.     

Last year, I received a jury summons and after being picked for a drunk driving case, told ‘em I was a bartender.  Dismissed.  I’m a pro at getting booted, even when I want to stay, but a visit to the court house always carries a risk.  Last week, the sting came when the judge asked us what books we’re reading, and everyone said, “I watch tv.”  The American experiment in democracy is doomed, but at least we’ll have a laugh-track.