I had a perfectly good reason to be excused from jury duty; but that word “duty” resonated with my fifth-generation German-American DNA, not to mention I’m just plain nosy. I set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and drove to my destination.
The courthouse doors were locked and several other rain-drenched arrivals and I huddled under a miniscule overhang. Finally, we ambled in and waited for numbers to be called from the jury pool.
While “people-watching,” I noticed a middle-aged woman scurrying to the front desk every fifteen minutes and engaging an employee in conversation. The employee shook his head no and Ms. Antsy sat down again.
A bailiff called sixty potential jurors including Ms. Antsy and me. We followed our leader to a courtroom hallway. He informed us, “Line up according to the numbers I call and when inside and seated, that will be your seat for the duration of the trial. Read through the sheet of possible questions the attorneys might ask you.”
A disheveled guy behind me asked, “What’d he say?”
Whew! A strong whiff of garlic hit me. Before I could answer him the bailiff continued, “The judge, court reporter and attorneys need to hear you. Do not mumble!”
We obediently followed him into an iceberg/room. Mr. Garlic, sporting grungy dungarees with knee holes, a tee-shirt advertising “Eat Bertha’s Mussels” and flip-flops (business attire?) plunked down next to me and muttered, “Holy s___! I’m going to freeze my butt off.”
The judge asked, “Raise your hand if you need to be excused…and speak up.”
About a dozen folks gave a variety of excuses that didn’t wash except for Ms. Antsy who pleaded, “Judge, I’ve been sick all day and have diarrhea.” She was dismissed – a brilliant excuse.
The prosecuting attorney began interrogating, but similar to herding sixty cats, we nervous jurors weren’t cooperating. We were a room-full of soft-spoken, intimidated folks with blue lips and the judge continually urged us to speak-up.
The prosecuting attorney focused on me. “Ms. Nieman, what is your occupation?”
“I’m an author and a columnist, Sir.”
I read his lips as he tilted toward his colleague and asked, “Did she say she was a Communist?” His partner shrugged.
Two hours of in-depth questioning ground to a halt and we broke for lunch. Upon returning our bailiff asked us to wait. Those quick on the up-take dove for the few chairs; the remainder sat on the floor, backs to the wall. We all wondered why the delay.
Back inside we gave the defending attorney our attention except for Mr. Garlic who softly snored and cuddled into me. Beyond caring, I welcomed the extra warmth. Finally, we were again dismissed to the inhospitable hallway.
During our interminable “waits,” I sold a couple of books and briefly considered claiming business mileage as an expense. At 5:30 we fell into line and filed in. The court reporter announced the chosen six jurors, two alternates…and not me. Nuts! I figured it was that “Communist” thing.
Would I do it again? Of course! I’m fifth-generation German-American. Remember? But, next time I’ll give my occupation as “Retired.”