Sixty potential jurors cowered in the back of the courtroom as the lawyer spun the lottery jug with all of our names in it. Everyone stared at the floor, as if not drawing any attention would get them back to their regular lives sooner. It’s not always good to be selected, especially by a lawyer.
The scene reminded me of middle school gym class, when Louis Poois (not his real last name, at least not when he was within earshot) would get the ball during a game of dodgeball. The entire opposing team would hide in the corner, crawling all over themselves, trying not to be on the outside of our human shield of cowardice.
“Pow!” was the sound you’d hear emanating from the head of Louis Poois’ unlucky target, as the volleyball ricocheted into the gym rafters, perhaps never to be seen again.
Louis would trot back towards his team, arms held aloft in triumph, his armpit hair billowing in the breeze through the holes in his muscle shirt while his victim groaned on the gym floor, the word “Spalding” branded on his forehead.
A friend just told me that dodgeball is banned from gym classes in public schools now, and the fact that we began recalling dodgeball games with fondness might be a sad commentary on how much fun the rest of middle school was.
“Michael Todd,” the lawyer said, reading from the card he’d just pulled. Pow! The other potential jurors looked at me with relief as I joined the chosen ones in the jury box.
The jury selection process took the entire morning, as each person in the room had some terrible secret they wanted to discuss with the lawyers in private, out in the hallway. Those who successfully argued their inability to remain impartial disappeared forever. The others came back into the room, dejected, thrown back into the pool.
As the lawyers spent hours walking back-and-forth between their table and the hallway, I began to understand why every available surface in the courthouse had at least one water pitcher sitting on it. Those guys must get thirsty after all that walking.
The highlight of the morning came when a lawyer asked an old guy whether he’d be able to remain on the fence until all the evidence had been presented. “I spend my whole life on the fence,” the man replied. “It just depends which way my wife pushes me.”
In the end, I was among eight jurors chosen for a civil landlord-tenant case that ran for three days last week. “Don’t talk about the case,” we were instructed at every break, so we played it safe by not talking about anything at all. For hours on end, we’d sit in a jury room the size of a cubicle like monks, pointedly not making eye contact.
After one day of this, it became clear that I needed a new game on my iPod. The most popular game in the iTunes Store was called “Angry Birds,” which involved firing birds out of a slingshot to knock buildings over. I knocked over a lot of buildings as a juror.
“How has the jury found?” the judge asked at the end of the trial.
“Your Honor, the jury has found that while the multi-shot birds do inflict more damage than regular birds, you just can’t beat the bomb-shaped birds for pure destructive capacity. Also, we the jury find that our battery is almost dead,” we replied.
Actually, in the end, we reached a verdict that seemed fair for all parties. (I’m afraid if I tell you the actual details, cops may come to my house at 4 a.m., haul me off to a dungeon and torture me by making me watch 5,000 episodes of “Law and Order” in a row.) I’ve since been lobbying for my friends to start calling me “The Verdict,” which is a much catchier nickname than “The Situation,” a moniker that clearly exceeds the maximum allowable nickname length by at least one syllable. It hasn’t stuck yet, but I’ll keep trying. The only other decent one I could think of was “The Hung Juror,” but that seems like it might be better left for someone in the adult movie industry.
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