Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Shirking civic duty for 40, Alex."

I’m on call for jury duty this week. In LA county that means every night you call in and see if your group is required to report the next day. If it is you go to the courthouse and join a few hundred others cooling their heels. If you’re called for a trial you are then shuttled into a courtroom where lawyers and the judge question you and determine who will serve on the jury. If, at the end of that day you’re not selected you’ve completed your obligation. The city asks you to perform this civic duty once every year to eighteen months so that’s certainly reasonable. And I think if selected for a trial I get $15.00 a day, which would make me the highest paid non-Letterman writer in America if called. And almost pays for gas to the courthouse.

I’ve had jury duty several times but have never served on a jury. The closest I came was a few years ago in Van Nuys. I was herded into the courtroom with probably fifty others and told this was to be a gang related murder trial that would last four weeks. The woman judge asked if there was anyone who wanted out due to hardship. Thirty hands went up. I didn’t bother. “Planned trip to Spring Training” didn’t seem like it would fly.

One by one the alleged hardship cases filed into the judge’s chamber to plead their case and one by one their request was denied. A woman who was 8 1/2 months pregnant was not excused. Several self-employed people were not excused. Alex Trebek, the one celeb in our group, went in to see the judge. He was excused. What the fuck?! Will the nation’s literacy level go down two points if a JEOPARDY taping has to be postponed?

We were then given questionnaires to fill out. Profession, age, was anyone in our family a policeman, was anyone in our family shot be a policeman? That sort of thing.

The attorneys began individually questioning us. The pregnant woman had to use the bathroom in the middle of her session. She was using the bathroom every twenty minutes. Still, she got selected.

Another woman, who was maybe thirty, was asked if she had ever been on a jury before. “Yes” she said. When was it? About a year ago. Was there a verdict in the trial? Yes. What was the trial? A rape case. What was the verdict? She couldn’t remember. COULDN’T REMEMBER?! A woman couldn’t remember the verdict in a rape trial?! She was selected to the jury.

One man said he had been on a jury but only as an alternate. Was there a verdict in the trial? He said no but there sure as hell would have been had he been on the jury. He was excused.

They finally got to me. We were supposed to state our name, hometown residence, and profession. What I wanted to do was say, “Ken Levine, Los Angeles, the host of JEOPARDY” but I didn’t think it was worth going to jail for that joke. My interview was rather short. First question: “Do you have any trouble with people owning guns?” I said yes, I was a writer on MASH and… Before I could finish my thought: “Thank you. You’re excused.”

Unfortunately we can’t ask questions of them. We can’t say, “So is this trial going to be boring as shit or is it something that might be interesting?” “Will there be visuals?” “Can I stop you if I’ve already seen this on LAW & ORDER?” “Is it okay to wear my FREE THE CHICAGO SEVEN T-shirt?” “Can I still get text messages during the trial?” “At any point can I object?”

Anyway, if I ever was going to be on a jury now would be the perfect time – me being on strike and all. I just have to hope the attorney doesn’t ask if I wrote for MASH or reads my blog.


Stigg said...

Too worn out from your radio show to proof-read?

So was the lady who couldn't remember the verdict serving for fun? Why would she be back on a jury only a year later? Unless she recently moved and got unlucky.

Anonymous said...

I was being questioned during jury duty in the Van Nuys court once, for a trial of a man arrested for exposng himself and masturbating in a men's room. A lawyer told each juror, "In this trial you will hear words like PENIS, ERECTION, and ORGASM." hitting each word hard, I guess to see if we flinched. They he would ask, "Will these words offend you?" When he asked me this, I replied, "No. Those are three of my favorite words." I paused for the large laugh that filled the courtroom, then added, "And they stand for three of my favorite things." BIG laugh, including from the judge. I then added that I was heartened to hear we had police staking out men's rooms for masturbators, as it must mean that all the robberies, rapes, and murders in Los Angeles must have solved if they could spare the man power to hang around public toilets to make sure no man in a men's room ever glimpses an erection.

I was not selected to serve.

Anonymous said...


It must be late. You didn't set up Alex Trebek. He came out of nowhere. I assume you meant to say the he was in your group of prospective jurors before the judge called you in.

Just what you need. Notes on your blog.

Roger Owen Green said...

Bring LOTS of reading material. But you probably know that by now.

Anonymous said...

Smart man, Ken. The folks who were trying to "play" (getting out of jury duty) the judge when we were being voir dired were assigned to civil court, which results in longer service than the typical criminal trial.

Rick L. Phillips said...

Wow I was hoping you would get selected so you could get that big $15 a day pay raise.

Rob said...

Actually, I think the Alex Trebek thing works better the way you have it.

I have a friend who is a prosecutor. Because he's a junior member, he gets the kind of cases where you might hear PENIS, ERECTION, and ORGASM. He told me about a time when he had a thick file of cases such as this. He asked a coworker to get his stuff out of the attorney's lounge at the courthouse. She fumbled it as she was walking in and lost a few pages, including a sheet of large pictures of a man's PENIS (do we have to keep capitalizing this?). He said she turned white as a sheet until she realized that this was for a case he was working.

He also told me that the likelihood of a man to do a deal on a case like this often hinged on the size of the EVIDENCE portrayed in the pictures. (The smaller the man, the quicker the deal.)

In Louisville, you have to drive downtown and report in everyday for a whopping $12.50. You sit in a huge room with everyone else who has been called and wait for your number.

I actually got to sit on a jury for a medical malpractice case, even though I work for a health insurer and knew quite a bit about how doctor's work. The woman's lawyer was in the early stages of alzheimers, apparently, as he couldn't remember her name, the doctor's name, and half the time lost his train of thought in the middle of the sentence. She had her toes straigthened and they kept curling back up, causing her to lead a less active lifestyle. The malpractice attorney (who was so slick you could have replaced the oil in your engine with him)destroyed him, presenting evidence that she'd climbed a small mountain, strolled through New Orleans, and done many other things while in "extreme agony."

I got into the jury room and figured it'd be like 12 Angry Men, where I had to convince the others that this woman's plight was a scam, and she didn't deserve a dime. Instead EVERY person in the jury room said some very nasty things about the woman and her attorney. We actually sat in the jury room for 30 minutes so she'd think we'd actually talked about the case for a bit of time.

You wouldn't believe the looks the woman gave us. Thank God it wasn't a gang trial.

As for the selection process, I've yet to understand why the self employed have to serve. My wife served with a daycare owner who not only legally had to show up, but also legally had to pay for a replacement for herself at her day care, meaning that she lost money everyday she was there. Not excused.

I think judges are tired of getting OJ juries, where the only people on the jury are the people who had nothing better to do and were missing a brain. Still, for $12.50 a day (the equivalent of $3.50 in California, I'm sure) they should be a little more forgiving.

Luckily, my employer pays us while we're serving.

Tallulah Morehead said...

When I stood trial (What was I charged with? I won't sully Kent's flog with the baseless charges. Look it up if you must know. It was in all the papers at the time, and a book was written about it. I was completely exonerated, except for that pesky verdict.), back in 1947, I learned just what a SHAM (Hmm, not as impressive as PENIS.) the jury system is. The constitution says I had the right to a jury of my peers. Then they bring in a bunch of housewives and hardcore unemployables. These aren't my peers! I wouldn't even speak to most of them on the street unless they were buying the drinks. For MY peers, you needed Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, etc. (But NOT Sonja Hennie or Brian Donlevy!)

The fact is, I have no peer!

Fortunately, since I'm chauffered everywhere, I don't need a driver's licence, and as I am Hollywood Royalty, I don't vote, so I've never been called for jury duty. Too bad though; I've always heard that Justice is blind drunk.


Eric said...

Clearly they rejected Trebek because he's Canadian.

Nathan said...

"Civic Duty for 40?"

It's gotta be 20 years since that's been an amount on the board.

Anonymous said...

Ah, So I am seeing a trend here...

I was at San Fernando Courthouse during the time that L.A. was waiting for the verdict in the Rodney King Civil Trial. The Civil Trial followed the Criminal Trial that had caused the Riots, so it was a bit tense in the courthouse. The judge says "This will be a murder trial, no excuses." I raise my hand anyway and say, "I work in Television". He immediately excuses me and the other potential jurors gave me dirty looks, as I walked out of the coutroom. I loved it!

rob! said...

i love that MASH, twenty + years after its gone off the air, is still thought of as code for being very liberal. you guys did something right. :)

Anonymous said...

Isn't it reasonable to excuse someone like Alex Trebek because their presence would be a distraction?

yoo hoo said...

I must be caught in some jury rotation hell. I've been called to come sit in various rooms through out the greater Puget Sound to wait to be called for jury duty, no less than 6 times in the last 10 years. Um, hello, there are other people in this federal district.
The big one that got away however, was a triple murder where the trial was supposed to last at least 6 months. It took two weeks to even get to the point where I was excused, 1500 people were called. Boy that was fun! I was excused because I was single and unemployed. I could have been looking for a job, but instead I had to claim the jury riches on my unemployment claim...rotten bastards.
This last time, the week before Christmas 07, they finally replaced the introduction to Jury Duty 101 tape starring Raymond Burr, with a new jazzy and hip psuedo court room drama. Who knew that Perry Mason is no longer useful.

Anonymous said...

Gang-related shooting trial in San Diego. The banger was one mean dude, but the DA did such a crappy job, we had to let the little shit go. Won't happen when I'm King.

The Curmudgeon said...

"Will the nation’s literacy level go down two points if a JEOPARDY taping has to be postponed?"

It's low enough already... would you really want to take the chance?

Emily Blake said...

I was an alternate on a rape trail a few months ago. It was odd - like half the jury pool was Asian but every single one of them was excused because in Asian households they don't talk about sex so the word PENIS made all the Asians uncomfortable. Well, all except that one guy who admitted he doesn't like black people.

There was one guy who was clearly trying to get out of jury duty by making up all kinds of emotional issues so the judge got her vengeance. Even though we were in our second day of jury selection so everybody who got rejected went straight home, she made him move to a civil trial.

They didn't pay me because I'm a state employee, but they do pay you mileage now. I got like $12 for a week's worth of work.

The guy was found guilty because he very much was.

Michael said...

In Houston (where they pronounce "voir dire" as "vore dyer") you're assigned a day to show up, and if you're not called that's it you can go home.

I've been selected to a criminal jury three times, with one guilty, one hung jury, and one case where they settled before the prospective jurors could be questioned.

In the hung jury case, the sticking point was this: we had two guys in the front of a car, and the passenger had a backpack full of empty baby food jars in the back seat behind the driver (within easy reach, typically where a passenger would throw his stuff in the back). The backpack was open. There were also loose baby food jars with crack in them in the back behind the passenger. The loose crack jars were the same kind as the empty jars in the passenger's backpack. The jury was hung on whether the crack-filled jars were the passenger's or the driver's.

Anonymous said...

A woman who was 8 1/2 months was not excused.

Not even after she spit up on herself and soiled her diaper?

Anonymous said...

I'm with Ned, I read that and thought, "My God, the woman was 8 1/2 months old and still called for jury duty? Insanity!"

I, too may have to serve Jury Duty here in L.A. this month. But mine is U.S. District Court so I would get $40 a day if called. Sadly, that's a good gig for me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

My one and only experience with jury duty was being a potential juror on a civil case over peet moss. Really.

On the other hand, my girlfriend sat on a jury in a child abuse case. She had a hard time letting go of that.

Anonymous said...

I served in a civil case involving three parties; each with a team of lawyers trying to pass the blame along.

A woman ran a red light, and hit a pickup truck with an aftermarket camper body. There was a young man (17ish) in the camper, who was thrown out and wound up a quadriplegic.

The kid was suing the camper body mfg'r, who pointed out that nobody's supposed to be riding in the camper. Kid's lawyers pointed out that the sign was in English, which the kid didn't speak. And everybody was ganging up on the woman, but it was clearly the camper manufacturer who had the most money to sue for.

In any event, I strongly recommend jury service. It sure isn't Law & Order, and will give you a new respect -- or contempt -- for the system.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

i'm disappointed in you Ken...
you haven't been deleting the anonymous comments.

this makes you unreliable. which means you shouldn't serve on juries. that's your ticket out.

Anonymous said...

Once I was in a jury pool with porn star Ron Jeremy. He was excused because he was a hung juror.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've been on five juries: four criminal cases and one civil. Here in Tacoma we get $10/day plus mileage. Being a federal employee, I get the day off with pay, but I have to give Uncle Sam the $10. The mileage is mine. I love being called for jury since it allows me to stay away from work. I also like the challenge of being a juror.
Mu last case was remarkable for a couple of reasons. One was the voir dire process. They lawyers seems to focus on about six people to question, including a retired colonel who said drug dealers should be shot. One woman's answers made her sound like a blithering idiot. She was picked to serve, the others weren't. The day we were supposed to deliberate one of the jurors told the judge that another juror had been discussing the case in the jury room. In fact, her started to make a couple of remarks about the demeanor of the lawyers and was quickly told to be quiet by the others. But in the interest of fair play and making everything on earth ridiculous, a mistrial was called. I wanted to kill the blabbermouth and the fink, not only because they wasted our time, but I was really interested in seeing how the other jurors would perceive the evidence. The charge, BTW, was possession of meth.

"peet" moss? Nope, it's "peat."

Cap'n Bob said...

I suppose I shouldn't correct spelling when I have so many typos, but I know how to spell most of the words I use.

Change mu to my and they lawyers to the lawyers.

Oh, one other thing, they usually excuse people from jury duty here for pretty flimsy reasons. My wife got off jury duty that would have started today by claiming she was needed at work.

Anonymous said...

My one jury experience was both fascinating and sad. A young wife and mother was killed in a car accident, and several other family members were severely injured. The family sued the manufacturer, claiming the accident was caused by a substandard part. Unfortunately, they couldn't prove it, and there were plausible alternative causes. It was heartbreaking, but based on the evidence and the judge's instructions, we really didn't have enough to find the car company liable. I still think of that poor family, and even though I know we reached the only fair verdict, it hurts to know we contributed to their further devastation.

Ironically, if they'd drawn a less conscientious and rational group of jurors, they might have won.

Anonymous said...

Breaking News...
Golden Globes ceremoney cancelled

J Lee said...

All I can say is Art Fleming never would have gotten out of jury duty that way.

Anonymous said...

Eric could be right. I have a Canadian friend who was called for jury duty in NYC.

In many states, you get excused if you mention that you watch MASH.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"peet" moss? Nope, it's "peat."

Sorry darling, it's Pete Moss. He was my first studio publicist. When I made my WWII service musical, PRIVATES ON DISPLAY, he came up with the slogan, "They can kill you, but they can't kill a song!"

Can I get off jury duty for drinking mash?


grolaw said...

I am an attorney.

You are not "selected" for the jury.

The jury pool is assigned numbers and the lowest numbered remaining 6/12 + alternates become the jurors.

If your answers to the questions lead to an impossible result: The Plaintiff is a screen writer. Do any of you have any reason why you could not follow this Court's directions knowing that the Plaintiff is a screen writer? "I hate all screen writers and would just as soon use them for land fill" would allow that juror to be struck for "cause."

There are a limited number of "preemptory" challenges and jurors can be struck for no reason (except, you can't strike a juror because of race, gender, ethnicity, religion...etc).

I once had a potential juror - a white male in his 40's dressed in a suit. He was somewhere in the low 30s in juror numbers and we were seating 12 jurors + 2 alternates in a medical malpractice case. His juror information form was filled out nicely - he was a "retired" engineer. He never raised his hand or answered "yes" or "no" during the voir dire - so I asked him how he had come to be retired at such a young age.

He replied, very slowly, "They say that I haven't been right since the accident." He had suffered a closed-head injury and had the functional brain of about a 5 year-old. His wife filled out the form for him and dressed him up and dropped him off for jury duty. He was struck from the pool for cause.

Trials can be deadly dull or not - I strongly suggest that everybody interested in seeing a fine trial in a film go rent/buy Anatomy of a Murder. That is about as close to a real trial as you will find in a film.

Anonymous said...

Holy moly, I was called for jury duty in 1982 and the pay back then was $15 a day! Guess the courts aren't keeping up with inflation. Anyway, I spent three boring weeks in a jury room doing jigsaw puzzles and reading 10 year old copies of Reader's Digest waiting to see if a case would be going to trial and a jury would be needed. Finally my group was called down for voir dire. It was a civil case, two accountants suing one another. I was asked if I'd be able to pay close attention to testimony that involved long columns of numbers. I admitted that I'd probably doze off, and was excused.