Musings of a Prospective Juror

The other night I watched the Academy Awards–or part of them. Except for a few bright moments, they always put me to sleep. But the people sure look beautiful, no arguing about that. And I’ve heard what it takes to get them looking that way too–the way they appeared that night is not how they looked when they woke up that morning–or the next morning, or any morning. (That was a comforting thought.)

I’ve read that it takes an entire team the better part of a day to get the women prepped for the red carpet. Skin, hair, make-up, clothes, jewelry–it all takes a massive effort by many to get everything buffed, polished, and pulled together for the same shining moment. Apparently it works–or at least it pays off in the final product.

Then, two days after the Academy Awards, at the other end of California from the home of The Red Carpet, I had the chance to get some more close-up views of some other California types–but in person, not on a TV screen. The difference couldn’t have been more shockingly pronounced.

I had been called to jury duty, and there I was, essentially sequestered in a box-like room with 150 people I didn’t know. I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast to the stars at the Academy Awards, but I don’t know why. It must have been for the sheer entertainment value of it as the groups and the venues had as little to do with each other as Rodeo Drive and the streets of Calcutta.

Where in the world do movie stars come from? They certainly are an alien species if we who were in the jury holding tank were representative of the general populace. I did not see one person in that jury room that came anywhere close to resembling any of the movie stars that had been parading around the southern part of this state, as well as on all of our TV screens, just a few nights before.

If we had ever had the notion that we were to look like the stars, or that the stars do in some way look like us, that jury room experience would be cause of many wrist slittings. Fortunately, I saw no blood being shed, so maybe I was the only one having such thoughts.

Maybe some of the differences had to do with how people were dressed. Stars at the Oscars are decked out. People in a jury pool are definitely not, and many look like they’ve dressed for something akin to ditch digging–ill-fitting jeans, sweatshirts, and seemingly little-to-no effort made to look like they wanted the role (very little make up or done hair here), which they probably didn’t. That must be it–dressing down to accomplish the prize of dismissal.

The other thought I had was, if I had been either the plaintiff or defendant (which the judge in the courtroom that I was eventually assigned to pronounced with a distinctly nasal “ant”–much in the way that Chris Darden always did in the O.J. Simpson trial), I would have been distressed at the appearance of the motley crew that we, the prospective jurors, presented.

Maybe part of that was also due to the most awful lighting available–that icky fluorescence that is the lighting of choice of nearly every office building in this country and that makes people look well beyond half dead–even if they had made efforts to the contrary. Remember the opening factory/office scenes in the Tom Hanks’ movie Joe vs. the Volcano where the lighting made everyone appear to be gray and dying? That’s how we of the jury pool looked. I must say that the lighting at the Academy Awards appeared infinitely better.

Anyway, back to how I would feel if I knew that the people deciding my fate were going to be drawn from the jury pool that I was part of. In two words, ‘not good.’

Interestingly, there was a big article in the local paper that appeared on the day before my reporting for duty, the subject of which was jury duty itself. It explained a lot, if not the awful lighting or the fact that courtrooms are always, at least in my experience, windowless bunkers of rooms that would seem to be deliberately designed to drive any half-way sane person stark raving mad before the end of the first day. And this is conducive to a fair trial? I digress.

The article went on to say that in California if a jury cannot be drawn from the assembled prospects, then the judge can send bailiffs out into the streets to pick up people at random. Can you imagine? You go out to pick up some milk–or maybe go to a movie–and then find yourself sitting in a courtroom instead–for the next three weeks, or even longer. Californians, beware!

This snatching of people off the streets does give a new perspective to the word ‘random’ when applied to jury selection. Would you want to be judged by a jury drawn this randomly?

Personally, I would want some assurance that the people chosen would at least know how to think. There should be tests to prove that, although anyone taking one of these tests, who was also capable of thinking, would figure out how to make the test results appear otherwise so they could make an early escape from the impending incarceration in a bunker-like courtroom.

I know. We should get our juries from among the attendants (I wonder if that is pronounced with a distinct “ant” at the end as it seems to be with “defendant?”) at the Academy Awards. Seems it would serve them right for looking so good among a general populace that looks so bad. It would eliminate the random snatchings, and it would prove the truth of everything having a price.

So, what if the stars can’t think? (I think some of them can.) At least they would be nice to look at, and in those dungeons posing as courtrooms, something is desperately needed to provide that–might as well be the jury.

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