Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jury Duty

I spent most of last week on jury duty in downtown Los Angeles at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. That’s 18ish miles away from where I love, pretty much the farthest they can legally send me.

I’ve served on jury duty there twice before. The first time I saw the name of the courthouse, I wondered who this Clara Foltz was so I looked her up. Turns out she’s pretty impressive. She was the first woman admitted to the bar in California and the first woman lawyer on the west coast of the United States. She also pioneered the idea of the public defender system. The courthouse was renamed after her in 2002.

Clara Shortridge Foltz
This particular courthouse is where a lot of the big trials are held. We’re talking O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Michael Jackson’s doctor. I was on jury duty on an assault case when MJ’s doctor was arraigned. That was a zoo with all of the family present as well as media and protesters.

While I find trials and courtrooms interesting, I don’t exactly jump up and down with joy when I receive my notice. Generally, I groan. The courthouse in downtown L.A. is probably one of my least favorite places to go just because of the time it takes to get there. I’m not eager to spend 1 to 1 1/2 hours each way in bumper to bumper traffic. Given the nature of the cases tried there, I’m also afraid I’ll end up on a long trial that will disrupt my life for weeks.

Many, many years ago I served on a 6 week trial in a different courthouse. I know how tiring that can be. That one was particularly hard because of the nature of the case. It’s very difficult to listen to children talk about horrible things that have happened to them.

Anyway, I pulled up my big girl pants and braved the downtown traffic. I discovered, to my great surprise, that I kind of, sort of enjoyed the process this time around. The drive wasn’t as horrible as I remembered and the case I was on was fairly short. I met some interesting people and a couple of my fellow jurors bought one of my books.

Some things I noticed this time around:

There’s a new jury assembly room. The old one was basically just awful. This one has comfortable chairs, nice bathrooms, vending machines, a refrigerator, a microwave, tables and plenty of outlets for charging your electronic devices.

The courthouse was much quieter than I’ve seen it in the past, which meant it didn’t take me forever to get through security or get an elevator to my courtroom.

During the trial, interpreters were used for one of the witnesses. That’s something I’d never been exposed to before so I found that interesting.

In previous trials, I’ve seen the court reporter have to pick up their machine and stand beside the attorneys during side bars. This time around, the court reporter stayed where she was. The attorneys and judge talked into a small device that reminded me of a an old iPod. We couldn’t hear them, but the court reporter could through earbuds.

Overall, it was an interesting week, but I was still glad when it was over. I’m happy hanging out at home and working on my book.

Anybody else have any interesting jury duty experiences? Forgive my ignorance, but do my Canadian friends have jury duty as well?


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Sybil, sounds like you made the best of your time. I don't know about Canada but here in Scotland we have jury service – and there are 15 on a jury here, not 12. I have sat one two juries. The first stopped just as it started as the accused changed their pleas to guilty in front of us – a very unpleasant case involving a youth stomping on another youth's head and I am very glad I didn't have to sit through it as I would have had to excuse myself as I found it difficult to be impartial. The second time lasted five days and was unpleasant - because violence and drink and drugs were involved again, but not horrible.We also have (here in Scotland) three possible verdicts; guilty, not guilty and not proven, which makes reaching a verdict all the more complicated. TO be honest, after my brief jury service experiences, I'm not wholly convinced that it's fit for its purpose in the 21st century. What about you, do you think the jury you sat on came to the right verdict?

Vicki Delany said...

Yes, Canada has juries and citizens can be called to serve on a jury. I never have though.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for explaining jury service in Scotland, Marianne. I think we came to the right verdict, though I'm not totally convinced juries are the way to go. I've heard some talk at various points in time about changing to having cases heard by a panel of judges. Interesting about the 3 possible verdicts. Here, not guilty means the prosecution didn't prove their case so the jury could believe the person did the crime, but there wasn't enough evidence.

Thanks, Vicki, for the info on Canada. I thought that was probably the case, but had never really heard.

Sybil Johnson said...

Marianne, I was telling my husband about the three verdicts and he posed an interesting question. Can someone be retried if the verdict comes back not proven?

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Sybil, yes, you can be retried if "not proven" verdict is given. In Scotland we used to have just proven and not proven (although i think not guolt and guilty had been used before). It all changed in 1728 when jury decided the accused was "not guilty" of killing someone – the jury thought the death had been accidental and introduced the "not guilty" verdict and so the three options came into being.

Donna S said...

I have been called 3 times for jury duty here in my town north of Toronto in Canada. The first was the worst - it was a murder trial and scared me to death that I went through a 3 day process and I was one of down to 20 people, but got rejected at last minute thank goodness. The accused had to sit through the jury selection - he was a teenage boy and was white as a sheet which, I was told, was jailhouse pallor. Ugh! The second time was an arson case and I did not get picked and the third time I was ill and had to submit a letter from my family doctor. Never again, I hope.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for the info, Marianne. I would not want to be on a murder case, Donna. Someone I worked with eons ago was on a serial murder case for about a year. The company worked for paid for unlimited jury service so she couldn't get out of it. She said it was a very gruesome case. I get called for jury service every few years. Lots of cases in Los Angeles County, lots of courts so they need lots of jurors.