The last time I was called for jury duty, I ended up being the only woman on a 6-person jury in a civil trial. A woman was suing the New York City Police Department. This was my first time ever sitting in on a real trial, and it was interesting. It also wasn’t going to take more than two days, which was fine with me.
On the first day of the trial, we jurors were paraded in and the proceedings started. We were Very Important People. We held in our collective hands the power to enrich the plaintiff at the expense of the NYPD or leave her as she was, minus whatever she had to pay the lawyer.
The plaintiff’s lawyer was a young woman. The defense’s lawyer was a young man. The judge was a middle-aged man with a voice that could shatter glass, capable of intimidating everyone within a ten-mile radius. It wasn’t exactly Law and Order, but it wasn’t The People’s Court, either. I was settled in, listening hard and trying to remember what everyone said.
Witnesses were called and testified. The plaintiff testified. Everything was as it should be.
Then, from the depths of my handbag, which was on the floor in front of me, came the sound of ringing. My heart and several other organs sank to the floor, along with my dignity. I did the only thing I could think of: I pretended I didn’t know where the noise was coming from, and waited for it to go away.
My attempted deception didn’t work. Everyone turned around and looked at me, including the lawyers, my fellow jurors and the judge. I was toast, and I knew it.
I fished my phone out of my purse, hung up on the caller and tried to turn the phone off. Not only did it refuse to turn off, it started ringing again! Whoever was calling me had redialed! Modern technology had struck again.
The judge was staring hot laser beams at me and suggesting, in stentorian tones, that I shut the phone off. In complete embarrassment and abject fear, I told him that I was attempting to do so. He suggested, again in direct, resonant tones, that my phone should be taken out of the courtroom. I was ready to suggest that I, myself, be taken out and put someplace where I could hide for the rest of my life, but I only said no, it wouldn’t be necessary.
Fortunately for me and the American judicial system, the phone stopped ringing and I was able to shut it off. The judge continued to stare at me until I had the phone safely back in my purse and on the floor, where it could no longer stall the wheels of justice. Once he satisfied himself that I was sufficiently chastened, he allowed the trial to continue and everybody stopped looking at me.
The rest of the trial went smoothly, if you don’t count the two white guys on the jury, who decided to play Twelve Angry Men with the six of us while we were discussing one of the points we had to rule on. This dragged the deliberations out, but, finally, the other four of us were able to persuade the two of them that they were wrong, and we were able to go on. Unfortunately, because of a glitch in the points we had to discuss, we were not able to award the plaintiff any money. I think most of us were disappointed, but our hands were tied.
That was the one and only time that I was ever part of a courtroom trial.
Several years ago, I moved to another part of New York City, to another county. I thought I’d be free of jury duty for a long, long time because they wouldn’t yet realize that I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. But no! The sadistic little bureaucratic ant in the new county found me, and I got one of those preliminary questionnaires. Any time now, the summons will come again.