Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jury Duty II: The Secret of the Ooze

For the second time in my life, I received a jury summons by mail. And for the second time, they sent it to the wrong address. If Big Brother is watching, he's easily confused and distracted. Fortunately for him, I've instructed the post office where to forward my mislabeled mail. Unfortunately for me, that's one less excuse for trying to get out of service.

It had been precisely three and a half years since I was last called for jury duty. One might suppose that means it takes three and a half years to cycle through every able citizen in Los Angeles County. One would suppose wrong, since roughly zero of my friends have ever had to serve. Thanks to my prior service, I'm on the radar and no doubt doomed to be called back with some regularity. One of these days, I'm going to move to a new address and "forget" to set mail forwarding at the post office.

Three and a half years ago, my jury summons told me to show up on X day, at Y time. This time around, I was told that I was "on call" for a week. For a one week period, they would decide on a day-to-day basis if they needed me to come in, and would give me a call if I were selected. In a brilliant stroke of luck, my service period was the week of Thanksgiving. That would mean on one of the days, maybe two, court would not be in session. Everything was coming up Milhouse.

Or so I thought. As it turns out, I can't read jury summons forms. This actually makes a lot of sense, as I've always found it difficult to read the dry, deliberately wordy and coded language of legal forms. The form mentioned something about calling to register, and also said I should call the weekend before my service period was set to begin. I did as I thought I was instructed, and called to register the Sunday before my week. What I got was a pre-recorded message from a lady with a soothing voice who told me, essentially, I done screwed up. I was supposed to register the moment I received the form -- six weeks prior -- and then call again to find out if they needed me on Monday. So I was forced to reschedule.

Eager to serve my time and be done with it, I rescheduled for the very next week. I quadruple checked to make sure I was officially registered. Done deal. As my work week began, I kept my cell phone on me at all times in case they called me in. Monday passed; I was safe. Tuesday passed; I was safe. On Wednesday, a coworker saw my jury summons sitting on my desk and told me he had recently been on call as well. I told him how relieved I was that they hadn't called me yet. He looked puzzled.

"Have you been calling in every night?" he asked. Gulp!

Apparently, when you're "on call," the court does not call you; you call the court. It's your responsibility to call in every night after 5pm and find out if they want you to come in the next morning.

Okay, that is NOT what "on call" means. When a medical doctor is on call, he doesn't ring up the hospital every hour to see if they want him to come in. The hospital calls him as his services are required.

So I called up, talked to an operator and found out, sure enough, I was supposed to have shown up right on Monday. So I rescheduled again for the next week. This time, the operator told me specifically what number to call, what time to call it, and what I should expect to hear. Finally, I was going to do things right.

I called Sunday night, and learned I did not have to show up on Monday. Called Monday; got a no for Tuesday. At this point, I was pretty well convinced that the court system had deemed me unreliable and unfit for service. Awesome! Wednesday - no! Thursday - no! If I could survive one more day, my service will have been fulfilled for at least a year.

But what kind of story would this be if I didn't get called in on Friday?
I was instructed to be at the court house at 7:45am. It's a 45 minute drive. I left my apartment at around 7:35. Oh yeah, I'm a total rebel.

No, I'm not a total rebel. Previous experience had confirmed that the show gets started pretty late. You can either show up promptly and wait for the late people, or you can be a late person and not waste so much of your precious time.

I'd printed up directions from Google Maps. It's a similar course as my route to work; just a different exit. The 10 East, to the 110 North. Take the exit for San Bernardino/Santa Ana. As I approached the exit, things got slow. Real slow. Frustrating slow. Heartbreakingly slow. But finally, I arrived at the exit. It was coned off! Completely closed!

What you need to understand is, when it comes to driving to a new place, I need EXACT directions, and I cannot deviate from them. I get lost easily. I have a good general sense of placement -- "west is that way; Hollywood is over there; San Francisco is way up there" -- but that doesn't help you at the street level. I was not only being forced away from my exit, I was being ushered onto a whole different freeway -- the 101 -- and being aimed exactly away from the direction I needed to go ("downtown is back there").

I would later find out that my exit was closed down because a guy was randomly shot there the previous night. Back in the '80s, freeway shootings used to be a favorite sport in L.A. (This is why we need a football team.)

The long line of people spurned by the closed exit all seemed to be taking the first exit on the 101. I followed suit. Now on a surface street, traffic became even more painfully slow. We inched along, then stopped. Inched, then stopped. Soon, I realized that traffic wasn't going slow simply because of all the freeway spill-off. It turned out, we were in the middle of another crime scene. What are the odds?! I know people think L.A. is a crime ridden cesspool, but we usually don't have one crime scene detouring you into another crime scene. I swear.

Remarkably, I was able to navigate this detour easily and found my way right back to Temple Street. That is, after 45 additional minutes of traffic. Around 9:30, I pulled into juror parking at the Disney Concert Hall.


(no roof parking)

Close to two hours late, I was expecting this day to be a total loss. They would tell me I had to reschedule and make this journey again. But I continued on.

According to my paperwork, I had to go to room 302. So I went through security, got to the elevators, and hurried to the third floor. Jurors and police officers lined the hallways, waiting for various court sessions to begin. This was all very familiar to me from my previous jury experience... until I got to room 302. The door looked different than I remembered. And it was closed; no welcome mat for prospective jurors. And it had a judge's name plate on the door. I grabbed the attention of a nearby policeman.

"Is court in session in this room?" I asked.

He fiddled with the doorknob. It was locked. "Not yet," he goofed, then walked off.

Now rejected by the system, I figured I had time to take a long overdue bathroom break. (Did I mention I'd been drinking coffee on that two hour commute to the courthouse?) Then I went back down to the entrance. I approached a guy behind a desk who was either police or building security. He looked at my summons form.

"Okay," he said. "You need to go to the 11th floor and find room 302."

Let me run that by you again: I needed to go NOT to the third floor to find room 302. I had to go to the 11th floor, and find a room marked 302 there.

I tend to think of myself as not particularly stupid, but maybe I am. When told to report to room 302, doesn't one usually presume this will be on the third floor? Apparently every floor in this building has a 302. This implies that the building is so large that there are over 300 rooms on every floor. The building didn't appear that large to me. But again, maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am.

I finally arrived at the appropriate room. It was after 10 o'clock. I prepared myself for a stern look and a "we'll see you again soon" at the check-in. To my surprise, the lady at the desk said they were desperate for jurors and that I could still earn my service credit that day. She scanned me in and handed me some paperwork. I read the paperwork 20 times because, at that point, I didn't trust my comprehension of the things the court system writes on paper.
If you are in the jury assembly room at the conclusion of the first day and not assigned to a jury selection of trial, staff will complete your service and provide you with a jury verification form for your employer.
I read this line 40 times. It sounded like if I didn't get selected for a trial, then I'd still officially fulfilled my obligation and did not have to drag this process out any further. I turned to the guy a couple seats away from me.

"Excuse me. Are we in the jury assembly room right now?"

"Yeah, we are," he said. Three minutes later, he got up and found a seat on the other side of the room from me. Because smart people don't like sitting next to stupid people. Who cares? Only one thing mattered to me at that point: if I managed to stay in this room until the end of the day, then my service would be fulfilled.

And to my surprise, that's exactly what happened. Despite the fact that they were "desperate for jurors," I was never called in for selection. I was able to serve my community by sitting in a room reading magazines and listening to podcasts for six hours.

You're welcome, Los Angeles. Now let's not go through this again, huh?