Don't call me Bean, call me King County Superior Court Juror #102308610. Yesterday and the day before were the days I have been looking forward to my entire adult life: jury duty!
I find it surprising that this was my first ever jury summons considering that I a) have lived in five states since I turned 18 and became eligible to serve, b) have continuously held a driver's license, c) have voted in many elections, and d) have owned several different pieces of properties. I expected that any of those would have made my name readily available to be called but it never happened until now.
I was surprised how large the jury pool was when I reported for duty at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. We must have numbered about 200 people in the waiting room. After a brief introductory video called We The People and then a few procedural words from jury manager Greg Wheeler, we knew what to do next. Wait.*
About an hour into the day, the first announcement came over the speaker that 35 names had been randomly selected and would be escorted upstairs to form a jury pool. My name was not called.
45 minutes later the second batch of names was called and mine was among them! I turned in my paperwork and waited for the bailiff to take us to a courtroom. Then came an announcement that all of us in jury pool #2 would have to fill out some additional paperwork with questions all about our feelings toward the Hells Angels. Oooh, sounds like a hot one!
Almost immediately though the clerk called my name again and asked just me to step up to the counter. "How did they know?", I thought, "that I can tell someone is guilty just by looking at them? Now they are going to want me to be on all the juries!"
Wrong. Turns out another guy with my same first and last name was the one they wanted for the motorcycle case and I was back on the outside looking in.
Another 45 minutes or so and then came the real call. I was in! I was one of 40 jurors in pool #2 and was whisked upstairs to Judge Catherine Schaffer's courtroom on the 7th floor floor of the King County Superior Court.
I was very impressed with the judge. She spoke quite eloquently about the importance of the jury system its history in British common law. She spoke of the defendant's presumption of innocence and of the state's extraordinary burden of proof. I felt like I was reliving the civics lesson I probably slept through in 9th grade, and enjoying it.
I found out that our case would be fraud case that involved a stolen check written by the defendant to the defendant for a little over 500 bucks. Allegedly, I guess. Still, not nearly as cool as the Hells Angels trial going on one floor up.
Then her Honor turned the floor over to the two attorneys in the case to begin the process known as "voir dire," a medieval French term meaning, "to tell the truth." This is when the defense and prosecution tries to whittle the 40 down to 13 jurors (twelve, plus an alternate) that they hope will be receptive to their interpretation of the facts of the case. The defense attorney looked a lot like Maggie Gyllenhaal (the cute Maggie from Secretary, not the scary drugged out one from Sherry Baby) but the state's attorney was a fox who looked exactly like Maggie Grace (remember dead Shannon from Lost?)
During the interviews, I learned a lot about my fellow jurors in a very short amount of time. Average age appeared to be about 45. Astonishingly, just like Seattle itself, the racial breakdown appeared to be about 40 whites, 2 blacks, 5 Asians, and 3 others.
Favorite news sources were NPR, Seattle Times, and New York Times though everything from Fox News to Al Jazeera to local channel KING 5 was mentioned.
Predictably, Microsoft, Boeing and Nordstrom, all Seattle based companies, were easily the most mentioned employers.
Favorite non-work activities mentioned most included church, skiing, reading, and working out. Most were married. Most had children.
As I was listening to the room I found myself wondering which jurors were going to be trouble once we got into deliberation. Kind of like how you size up other passengers on an airplane to see who you could take if you had to.
The guy who looked like Carlos Mencia wanted to impress upon us that a criminal should never get off because of a technicality. He had a very long rambling speech about O.J. Simpson to back that up. He did not get selected.
The guy who looked like Ben Kingsley must have known a lot of the right things to say. He had previously served on three other juries, as the foreman each time. He got picked.
The woman who looked like Roseanne was selected also. She had testified as an eyewitness in three separate trials involving the bank she worked at being robbed.
And so it went. I sat there in what should have been my deliberation room as 13 names were called and none of them even rhymed with Bean. The state of Washington is apparently not interested in my brand of justice. Judge Shaffer had made it clear to us ahead of time that we must not take it personally if we did not make the panel; that it was not a reflection on our ability to judge a case fairly. I would be lying if I said I were not disappointed though.
Let me close with this first-hand observation of the process in action. Those who paint jurors with a wide brush, who assume that the only people who serve are too stupid to get out of it, and that it is the dredges of society deciding court cases could not be more wrong. The group I spent the afternoon with was bright, articulate, well-informed and eager to fulfill their constitutional duty.
And if you are one of the many who tries to dodge jury duty when it is your turn, I ask you this. Thomas Jefferson believed that the right to a trial by a jury of your peers was one of the most important and central principles of what the new American nation stood for. Since you disagree, what idea do you think is better?
*Speaking of waiting, Day 2 of my minimum service requirement had none of the excitement of Day 1. My name was never called all day and I was excused around 2 p.m..