Saturday, April 16, 2011

jury duty - your civic responsibility

Before I get into what was, what I call, the day from hell, let me talk a little bit of shop.

The photograph you see here was taken with my iPhone 3Gs. It has been said the the best camera to own is the one you have on you. Chase Jarvis, a professional advertising photographer has made the claim and a whole website, for that matter, based on the fact that the iPhone can be labeled as the best camera ever. These statements are not saying that mobile phones are technologically superior to a DSLR, medium format or other professional grade camera. They certainly are inferior when it comes to resolution and image quality. They offer far less features than the professional models. So why would anyone make such a claim about a little gadget that works as a daily organizer and a camera? Its availability.

As a photographer, I don't usually lug around all of my equipment when, say, going to the local supermarket. I mean, could you imagine, I decide to go buy milk and to do so, in hopes of catching an awesome photo on the way, I grab bags and bags of equipment? It would be quite a site.

Many photographers, along with yours truly, often capture moments in time when they are least expected. With today's cell phones, just about every single one made is equipped with a digital camera. Again, the image quality is no match for a professional grade camera but a cell's camera can usually do the trick. And with today's smart phones, such as the iPhone, many apps are available to edit photos beyond belief.

Let's go back to the photo above. I was walking to jury duty last week and decided to stroll through the courtyard behind City Hall, in Philadelphia. Below the statue of William Penn is an awesome building. The architecture is quite amazing. Built a couple hundred years ago, it is crazy to see how much detail went into such a structure. Along with the detail, time had to play an equally large role in such a project.

From the back side, the tower on which William Penn sits, is a view that few usually see in photos. Without hesitation, I grabbed the "available camera" from my pocket and snapped a few shots of the building. I was early and the ambient was just exiting Golden Hour. It was a cloudy day but not completely overcast. This was throwing some nice light onto the building, introducing some interesting shadows. The clouds were also quite ominous looking. They would add a nice touch to the photo.


Before I was able to edit or process the photos in any sort of way, I had to keep on walking over to Filbert Street, where jury duty was about to begin and I like the 300 others had been summonsed to serve the state's judicial system.

I walked into the large building and was quickly directed by security to stand at the end of the line, one so long that it rivaled many seen on a sunny day at Disney World. The day of hell has begun. My stress levels immediately began to rise as a larger gentleman stood directly behind me violating the normal distance one should stand behind another. He is what is known as a "space invader." The space invader's  breath was actually tickling my ears. That's just way too close.

After passing the beams of radiation sent through my body to see if I had a bomb strapped to my chest, it was on to the main arena. Here, the hundreds of chosen individuals are given a questionnaire and a glowing Juror sticker to be placed for all to see. Sandwiched between two other jurors, I tried to get comfy. Soon after, on the dozens of flat screen monitors overhead, a group of judges lecture, one by one, on how to answer each and every question on the survey we had been given. By the way, the questions were worded at about a first grade level, so it was very reassuring to know that potential deciders of fate had to be guided through this elementary process.

Group one had been chosen for a criminal trial. I thought to myself that if I was chosen to serve my country in such a way, that I better be chosen for something criminal, like a murder or something interesting and not chosen for a civil trial like someone suing McDonald's for serving coffee that was too hot.

Before the next group was chosen, a local judge had unexpectedly stopped by. He grabbed the mic and gave an impromptu motivation speech, thanking everyone for stopping by. As if we had a choice.

After a few laughs in the crowd, the emcee announced that the next group would be chosen for a civil trial. Forty people were chosen and I was number 33. Crap, a boring civil trial. I had to start thinking of some good excuses to get out of this nightmare.

Like sheep, we were placed in line and taken across the street to City Hall. They jammed us into the elevator like we were concentration camp prisoners being forced onto train cars. The difference was that those train cars were much roomier and better ventilated. The elevator stopped on the sixth floor and we were told to head over to court room 650. As we entered the court, an overly excited man, a clerk or something of that nature, who stood tall, all of about 90 pounds of him and sternly told us to take seats corresponding to our given juror number. I strolled back to seat 33.

I knew immediately that it was going to be a long day when the woman seated on one side of me had breath that smelled like she had just eaten a shit sandwich. I didn't know how I would survive. I thought that maybe I should just leave. It was too late, soon after my thoughts of escape, about 15 or 20 people entered the courtroom. They looked semi important, things must be starting.

We were given a drawn out synopsis of what the trial would be about. It turned out that there were a about three families suing some large corporations for contracting mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. The families were introduced and they sure had their game faces on. I'm sure their counsel had advised them to portray a very sad appearance. They sure played the part as they stood there without a single smile in the group.

After their introduction the, little engine that could, clerk announced that we raise the cards corresponding to our seats if any question asked would pertain to each of us. I immediately thought that this would be the part were jurors would be excused from duty if they raised their number for any reason. I couldn't be more wrong. This part of the game was just the beginning.

The dozen or so individuals, as it turned out, were all lawyers. One lawyer represented the families and all others were for the defense. Turns out that these families are going for the gold. They are suing every major company you could imagine. General Electric, Pennsylvania Power and Light, the railroad, DAP, just to name a few. This was no, coffee-to-hot-to-drink, trial. This was, and is, something big.

Before the attorneys were introduced, we were advised that the trial would last a minimum of two to three weeks. My blood pressure spiked at that moment. I could not imagine sitting on a trial for a month, let alone, a week. My wheels were turning as I tried to come up with my winner excuse.

It was about 10:00 a.m. and I had already endured two hours of hell. Crap mouth next to me was starting to make me nauseous. I was hoping that I would be done by lunch time. It was then that we were informed that the day would end anywhere between four and five o'clock. Wonderful!

The lawyers began to introduce themselves, one by one.

"Hello, my name is Joe Smoe and I'm from Indiana and I represent, Company X. If you or someone you know, recognizes me or my firm or the company I'm representing, raise your hand. During this trial, I, Joe Schmoe will be calling witnesses to the stand. My first witness will be Dr. John Doe, pathologist from Colombia University. I will also be calling Dr. Jane Jones, a nuclear physicist from NASA. If you or someone you know, recognizes any of the witnesses, please raise your hand."

Each and every attorney gave similar speeches. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. I must say that I was a bit intrigued as to the levels these guys are going to defend their side of the case. The lawyers hailed for across the country, the witnesses as well. This trial is costing some big bucks. I can only assume that the plaintiffs are going for a ridiculous amount of compensation. 

A peculiar thing that I noticed, a few of the attorney's appeared as if they were staring at me. Maybe I was paranoid but I could swear it was true. Then I realized, they were eyeing everyone up like they were wolves about to attack a fresh piece of meat. On the other hand, I could not help but notice one of the lawyers. He seemed very familiar to me. I knew him from somewhere, just couldn't put my finger on it. I could tell he had the same thought going through his head. Or, he wanted to pick me as a juror for some reason. That idea also added some milligrams of mercury on the meter.

Juror 24

After no jurors were excused, the team of lawyers exited the room. We were then advised, by the little giant, that we would be called in groups of five, to exit the court, enter another room and be called individually interviewed by the attorney's, in yet another court room. They called jurors one through five. I was number 33. The first five took at least an hour. It would be quite some time until they reached 33. I had to sneak out, for some fresh air and just to get the blood pumping a bit. Any longer next to poop mouth and I may have passed out. 

Before I exited the room, I found myself walking along side some random guy that wanted to strike up some conversation. I was not in the mood for fake talk, by any means, but he seemed determined to get my attention. It would be a long day so I gave in.

His name was Steven Smart. He appeared to be part Hispanic and part African American. It was hard to tell. He became very nervous as I walked towards the exit, warning me that we could get into trouble for leaving the building. I responded by saying that if they want to kick me off of the trial for breaking rules, that was OK with me. He immediately liked my rebellious attitude. 

Steve quickly confided in me. He showed me photos of his family and told me how difficult it would be if he had missed work for a month to become a juror. I totally understood where he was coming from. I don't see how anyone would do well after missing a month of work, unless their employer continues to pay them. Pennsylvania state law does not require that an employer pay an employee for attending jury duty. Bastards! We headed back into courtroom 650. Unfortunately, we did not get dismissed for our exit of the building. Bastards!

A Watched Pot Never Boils

I couldn't resist the urge to stare at the clock. The process had only reached juror number 15 and it was already past noon. I could see this thing passing five o'clock, easily. 

As jurors came back to their seats, others quickly attacked them. They wanted to know what went on in that room. What was asked? How did the person respond? Did they tell you if you were chosen? I have to admit, all of these questions were flying around in my head but I tried to sit and keep my cool. 

Steven Smart was juror 24 and he sat in the row ahead of me, in a panic. I told him to relax and, well, to think of some great story to woo the court into letting you go. We rehearsed his story a bit. I told him what to add and what to leave out. He was practicing his story endlessly. I'm guessing he just want to get the facts straight. Meanwhile, I still didn't know what story I was going to conjure up. A story that I would be able to place my hand on the bible and swear it to be the truth. 

Near one o'clock and the little lion man announced that it was time for lunch. We had one hour to enjoy the rest of our freedom for the day. Without fail, Steven Smart sidled up. He asked where I was going for lunch, I told him that I wasn't too hungry but was going across to the vendor for a fresh coffee. He liked my plan and asked if he could join. I, against my will, agreed that he could come along. Before heading across Broad Street, Smart wanted to know where a pay phone was. I hadn't used a pay phone in over ten years, didn't know anymore existed and allowed him to use my cell. We made our ways to the vendor, I grabbed a black coffee and Smart grabbed a Pepsi and a soft pretzel with mustard. 

The hour flew by as Steven told me about each and every relative in his family. Seeing this guy in a dark alley would make some people run as he is dressed as a pure street thug, from sideways had down to his gangster sneakers. It was pleasing to hear that his outward looks may just be a way to survive in the neighborhood that he resides. This guy cares nothing more than caring for his wife and child. Admirable of any person, I suppose. 

Smart kept reaffirming the fact that he made a new friend that day, me. He asked that I break bread with his family and go to the fried chicken buffet. I never said no. Who knows, that could be one hell of a meal. Nothing wrong with eating with good people. 

Back in seat 33 and I could feel my time to shine was coming soon. Smart had entered the room, I wished him luck and he made his way into the other room with his group of five. My mind was blank, as I had no "truth" to share with the court. My anxiety level was sky high. I did not want to get picked. 

Steven, juror 24, came out with a smile. I guessed the story we rehearsed paid off. He spoke of how he felt like a convict. He said the experience was nerve racking. All 15 lawyers stare, without blinking, as the juror takes the witness stand, ready to answer whatever question they have prepared for you. 

I don't have a huge problem with public speaking, or lawyers for that matter, but saying something to persuade 15 lawyers, who are in the business of persuasion, not to choose you, can be quite horrifying. 

Juror 33

My group was next. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was rehearsing multiple stories, over and over, in my head. I wasn't sure what to say. Before I knew it, the little engine that could, yelled, "31 to 35!" It was my turn. 

Our group of five enter a smaller room. Some sort of conference room. There was a fireplace to the right with artwork from an old friend, on the mantle. The work was of Joe Barker, a famous Philly artist that I've known for over a decade. It was calming to see something familiar in the room.

Juror 31 was in and out. As a group, we started to believe that the faster one was interviewed equalled a lesser chance of being chosen. Just a theory but it made logical sense. Juror 32 was a bit longer. For my intentions, I wish 32 never came out. No luck, juror 32 exited the room. I stood up to enter and the little lion man clerk called out, "juror number 34!" I thought that maybe he had some memory lapse and brought to his attention that I, juror 33, was still here. He acknowledged that and told me to remain seated. Talk about stress levels rising, I started to hyperventilate a bit. Why was I skipped? What the hell is going on? The others in the room looked at me with the same confused thought. I could see it in their eyes. 

Our group of five was just about finished, I stood up and was again told to take my seat. This was bad. Jurors 36 through 40 were called into the conference room and I was still sitting, making the groups of five and new group of six. Once again, I let the overly excited clerk know that I was still waiting my turn. He nodded and motioned his arm in a way directing me back to my seat. I couldn't sit anymore. I had to pace the room. Something was wrong. Of all people, me. All day, jurors went back the same way they came out. Now, for some historical reason, the judicial system is changed, for me, for something. Could any good come from that? Doubtful. 

Jurors 36 through 40 take their turns and only one juror is left, me. The loud little clerk comes out to the small room, looks around, as if there is lots of people, which there wasn't and yells "juror number 33!" I looked around the empty room and then towards him and walked into the room. 

I could barely look into the crowd. The lights were blaring in my eyes and I could not and did not want to see the stares of the wolves. I fumbled around a bit trying to take my seat. Everything felt as if it were in slow motion. I just wanted this day to end. 

Court is Adjourned

Eight jurors were picked, out of 40. I was not one of them. I cannot share what happened behind those closed doors. I cannot share what made the court decide NOT to choose me. I can tell you this, you bet your ass I will say, exactly, word for word, what was said that day, if I were to be chosen to serve again. 

I couldn't share here or my secret would be out. Sorry folks.

I could share this part of the story. 

When I arrived home, I took out the iPhone to take a look at the photos I took of City Hall. The originals looked a bit dull so I decided to do some quick editing. The photo here was edited only with iPhone apps, specifically, Photoshop Express. It took about five minutes to get the settings I thought worked best for the photo. Now, it's here for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

Until next time.