Judging the jury
Updated 7:08 am, Thursday, March 24, 2011
Last Friday, I was scheduled for jury duty in Stamford. The night before, as instructed, I logged on to a website to see if my services were needed.
There, in red letters, I read the news: "Daniel Woog" was not to appear.
Sitting by myself, in front of my computer, I nearly wept with joy.
Am I a bad person for wanting to avoid jury duty?
It is not that I don't understand that serving on a jury is not only our civic responsibility but a privilege that people in many parts of the world have fought and died for-- are doing so at this very moment, in fact.
Jury duty is a fundamental part of American citizenship. Like voting and not owning slaves, it took a couple of amendment tweaks and Supreme Court cases to get it right, but now we're good to go.
Though "go" does not include those of us who applaud the concept of a jury trial in theory but cower at the thought of being one of those American citizens actually sitting in the jury box.
From "Inherit the Wind" and "Twelve Angry Men" on through "Perry Mason" and "L.A. Law," we all know that the idealized image of a legal case bears no resemblance to reality.
No movie or television show in the history of media has shown someone receiving a legal document, summoning him or her to appear on a certain day. Nor has it ever depicted that same person trying to park in a too-small lot, passing through a metal detector, then being herded into an overcrowded, overheated room where a TV blares "Fox News" and the only reading material is a Good Housekeeping Magazine from 1994, in which underpaid civil servants hold your future -- for that day, maybe the next two or three, quite possibly the next several months -- in their bored, heard-it-all-and-then-some, uncommunicative hands.
Been there, done some of that.
A while ago, I was summoned to appear for another jury session. This was also in Stamford. That time, I did not check a website to see if I was scot-free because, even though the Internet was in worldwide use, it had not yet come to the judicial system of Connecticut. So I called a phone number, waited desperately to hear that I was off the hook, and -- despite an almost comical list of names, direct from a World War II hero flick ("Rodriguez, Chin, Koslowski, O'Sullivan, Goldberg...") -- I realized with a heavy heart that the god of hot, humid days spent in windowless basement rooms had screwed me over.
I appeared at the appointed hour. I could have been 90 minutes late and it wouldn't have mattered, of course, because in jury rooms nothing happens at normal speed. The morning passed with all the joy of sitting in a dentist's chair during a massive tooth extraction project, only not as quickly.
Finally my name was called. Well, actually not me --for the purposes of my voir dire interview I was "Daniel Wong" or "Weeg" or "Wooje" or something -- but who was I to argue? This was the most action I'd had all day.
A judge and several lawyers were seated in a smaller room. They all wore frowny-type faces. After a boilerplate lecture about the seriousness of what was going on -- basically a repeat of the 1950s-era movie we'd all seen earlier -- we heard the outlines of the case we were being questioned for.
It was -- I am not kidding -- the wood chipper trial.
If for some reason you have not heard of this murder -- the only possible explanation being that you lived on a continent without TV, radio or the National Enquirer -- it involved a guy who (allegedly) killed his wife and disposed of her body with -- how can I put this delicately? -- a wood chipper (during a snow storm) (on Lake Zoar). He was nabbed when he made the classic mistake: He returned the machine to the rental company completely clean. In the history of the universe, no one has cleaned a rented wood chipper.
I cannot recall the questions I was asked by the frowny-type people. I think I was too stunned at the prospect of actually serving on the wood-chipper trial -- which would probably take 10 months, involve gruesome testimony, and end up with the jury sequestered in a Best Western motel while one completely crazy woman refused to go along with the rest of us, causing us the day before Christmas to declare a mistrial and then endure the wrath and ridicule of the entire state of Connecticut -- to respond coherently.
Whatever the reason, I was dismissed from the jury pool. I don't think I actually high-fived the judge on my way out of the room, but I might have.
So it is not that I don't understand the importance of jury trials. I do. If I ever killed my wife, I would want the best, fairest and most judicial trial possible.
I just wouldn't want me to be on my jury.