By Johnnie Does…
Our “Johnnie does” segment depicts real life blogging of a correspondent wishing to maintain anonymity. He was given permission by the Blog Father to chronicle his exploits as long as content doesn’t turn into Johnnie Does Debbie or any female (or male) named herein; what follows is his account of jury duty.
I was called to “service” aka Jury Duty this past week. On Tuesday my group had to report, so I fired up the ole vehicle and made the trek to the Gordon Schraber Courthouse in Sacramento. (If you wish to avoid your own legal entanglements with parking enforcement, arriving early is essential.) I made my way to the juror parking lot, found a space, parked the car, and walked to the Courthouse.
As I approached the Courthouse steps, I was curious what sort of people that I might encounter during my visit. I kind of knew that the shifty and suspicious characters here to answer for their crimes entered the courthouse via a separate entrance; however, I was hoping to encounter attorneys or witnesses. I wondered whether they might try to influence their case by making me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. I’ve been known to be susceptible to the whiles of beautiful women in trouble or huge wads of cash but I found no one seeking to tip the scales of justice. Alone and somewhat disappointed, I entered the courthouse.
Upon entering, those of us reporting for our civic duty were herded like cattle through metal detectors at the security checkpoint. As I was about to enter, the guy in front of me made the machine beep. He then proceeded to take out his phone, it beeped again, then removed his belt; beeped again, then his spare change….(For a minute here I thought perhaps the “Chief Blogger” was in front of me.) Again the machine beeped, and the man said “oh my wallet”; finally, the machine didn’t beep anymore and he was admitted. Clearly this guy thought he was exempt from the signs instructing people to remove all said crap listed above from their pockets and place in a tray so it could be run separately thru the x-ray machine. In contrast, I passed right through and made my way to the jury room.
I check in with the clerk at the window and was told to wait and enjoy a movie that would start playing shortly. I was hoping the movie would be accompanied by a snack and complimentary beverage but sadly this was not the case. After seeing the prices marked on the nearby vending machines, I was hoping the person that came up with the prices would be on trial today for theft.
At around 9:30, they put on an old Sandra Bullock film (is it my age or aren’t all of her films old). Anyway, I had seen enough. I was ready to make an offer to the older lady sitting next to me….$50 to stay here and check me out at day’s end; I couldn’t take it anymore! Shortly thereafter I looked at my watch, I was convinced a few hours had passed and it had to be close to lunch time…it was 9:35.
About the time my sanity was threatening to leave me, a voice interrupted the movie. The announcement was made that they needed a jury and they began called names. I was one of the first ones called so I proceeded to Department 23 as instructed. (Each courtroom is called a department and has its own number.) I was lucky to be moving out of the accursed waiting room. It was time for the real entertainment to begin. I could now sit back and watch a few people get thrown off the jury and once they had a jury picked then I could be excused and sent home. My master plan was in motion!
Upon my arrival at the appointed room; however, reality saw to it that I had no such luck. I was called to sit in the jury box in seat 11, pretty much font and center! The judge read off a couple of preliminary items, saying because the defendant was black didn’t mean he was guilty, etc., etc. We were then asked if we knew any of the other jurors, the judge or defense or prosecutors, I answered, “No”. We took a 30 minute break at 10:30 with instructions to be back at 11; in what became a recurring theme during my time served, 11 turned into 11:30.
The judge very slowly and methodically began asking various canned questions to each of us on the panel. These questions included inquiring as to whether we had a family member convicted of a crime? A few of us raised our hands and the judge called on us individually. I had to state what happened with a family member, to which the judge asked if I knew any of the officers being called as witnesses. I responded, “No”. He then asked if I could put aside any bias I may have for a couple days I answered, “Yes”. He asked a few more follow ups to the panel, then excused us for 2 hours for lunch. I asked myself, 2 hours for lunch, can this be a professional gig?
We returned at 2:00 and waited. We were not called back into the court room until 2:20. From here the two attorneys took over, and I was again under attack. I was asked if someone was pulled over going 66 in a 65 zone if that was considered breaking the law, I replied, “Yes”. The female defense attorney had a follow up saying she was deeply disturbed by my answer to which I replied, saying posted speed limits should be adhered to at all times but occasionally circumstances warrant someone’s speed to fluctuate over and under the speed limit. She went as far as saying she had no witness list and solely planned to rebut everything the prosecutor brought up during trial. She finished up and the prosecutor took over, asking another juror some follow ups. To my amazement, the defense attorney then trained her fire on me once again asking what my thoughts were on being pulled over for only going a mile over, I answered than I believed it was the officer’s discretion. At this point I figured the defendant had been pulled over for something fairly ticky-tack then attacked and assaulted the three police officers at the scene, one being a women. At roughly 3 pm the judge said someone had to be somewhere in 30 minutes and we were going to stop here for the day. No one had been thrown off, and just a few questions so far had been asked of the prospective jurors. Our day was over, but our “service” was not; we were required to report back tomorrow at 9 am.
I reported back the following day and waited outside the court room doors. The other jurors began showing up and we waited until around 10:30 when the doors opened. Everyone took their respective seats and the judge began to address the group. He said he will take the blame for today’s goings on but we could not proceed because the defense attorney was sick. As a result, we had to return the following day at 1:30. He said he had a delta tunnels hearing in the AM. Frustration began to set in with the jury pool. One young lady said her boss was forcing her to take off work while attending jury duty, another works night shifts and is essentially unable to sleep during this charade. You could tell on the way out of the courthouse there was unrest brewing among the natives.
I returned yet again the following afternoon and boarded the elevator, the defense attorney got on next to me. I asked if she felt better and she said yes. I said well I’m sure it was no big deal you were absent yesterday. As we approached the courtroom I boasted to the fellow jurors “hey she isn’t sick anymore, she’s here!” To which she turned red as a tomato from all the clapping from us jurors. I think at this point she came to the realization that most prospective jurors while leaning toward being more than fair had turned on her and her client. As a group, we were sick of the delays and non-stop hurry up and wait mentality.
At 2:30 they called us into the courtroom again, and the judge said there was a resolution, the accused had pled guilty. The judge addressed us for about 30 minutes saying he was glad for our service and that we shouldn’t view this as a waste of time at all. He talked about the new courthouse being built soon at the cost of 400 million and how this building was deficient and so on so forth. He said something about us getting paid, I’ll believe that when I see it. We had to go back to the jury room and get a sheet of paper saying we served 3 days, presumably to give to our employer so they wouldn’t have an excuse to fire us. Then we could go.
This was the ugly underbelly of our justice system, which frankly I believe is rotten to its core. There were many people in that court room whose life was inconvenienced over 3 days in the name of this defendant. One lady drove all the way from Isleton for this, that’s more drive time than court room time for all you home gamers. More frustrating was that we as jurors were the ones constantly in flux. It’s somewhat stressful finding parking, then you had to factor in getting to the right floor, then wait for the court to open. Additionally there was no phone call saying no jury was needed since the defense attorney was sick.
However I would be remiss if I didn’t say this was a very good learning experience. At first I was flummoxed the judge didn’t seem to allow anyone’s excuse to stand. He had a very calm demeanor and usually asked you a question where your answer meant you shouldn’t be excluded. It wasn’t until after the jury duty was over I understood what was going on.
The judge was basically telling the attorneys this is going to be your only pool by which to pick from so of the 40 or so in this room try to find 18. (The jury is composed of twelve jurors plus some alternates.) I think he knew several of us were bound to get thrown off and as a result wanted both attorneys to use their 10 “challenges” as opposed to him throwing people off. Additionally I believe that before the jurors were set to be readmitted to court, the judge told both parties I think we can have resolution now, then boom, a plea deal was reached. I cannot definitely say justice was done because I was not there the day of the arrest for the crime, but I do think the defendant, by holding out until the last possible second, got the best deal possible.
Honestly the case was going to be nearly insurmountable for the defense to win, regardless of whether the initial traffic stop was legal. The biggest hurdle to overcome was that the defendant was accused of assaulting 3 badges (police officers)—one being a female. I say insurmountable because as a male, it would be very hard to acquit or even attempt to hang the jury when a male hits a female. Hopefully he got a fair deal, as I’m sure jail time was on the table. However if it would have gone to trial, I would be remiss to say I wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall hearing the defense attorney argue a case with no witnesses, videos, or her client taking the stand.
Now on to the judge, Kevin Culhane. I thought initially he was long winded, slow and deliberate, and at one point seemed as if he was intentionally wasting time.
To the contrary, Judge Culhane is a very distinguished civil court trial judge who has presided over a ton of civil suits. In retrospect, it makes sense that he was very deliberate, and tried to make the prospective jurors feel at ease even though some of us were talking about some very uncomfortable things either in ours or our families’ past. He always made it clear what the next steps were and apologized profusely for the defense attorney being sick and inconveniencing us. He spoke to us at length prior to dismissing us, and told us he was appointed by the governor to address the 6 year backlog of criminal cases at the court, and to put together a strategic plan to get a new court house built. He accomplished both of these, the new courthouse will be shovel ready in a couple months! All in all not a bad experience at all.
Johnnie Does San Francisco is next!