Day #7 – Courtus Interruptus

And so it ends, not with a Bang but with a Powwow. True to form, we The Jury, are told to be in no later than 9:15 so that we may get closing arguments out of the way before the scheduled 10:30 fire drill. By 10:00 it seems clear that something isn’t going on. Even John, our Court Officer, seems to have abandoned us. I guess it’s about 11:00 by the time we’re called.

Another juror has fallen by the wayside. It seems her nails had dried and her makeup was finally right and so she decided to go to Boston with her boyfriend for the weekend. She had a lovely face and a voice like a sharp tool. I’m glad for her departure because her entire opinion was going to be based on her low regard for The Angry Fat Girl. It’s almost like I care; not for the plaintiffs or the lawyers or even The Judge, though we did exchange a friendly glance during the preceding day’s session. It’s the concept. It’s flawed (wow is it flawed) but it’s decent. And not decent like it’s just ok; decent like it’s endearing.

At any rate, John, our Court Officer, does finally come around and leads us to The Court. He enters and closes the door. We are left in the hall for awhile during which time we decide that our case is very likely being settled out of court even as we stand there. Well not exactly stand there. Actually we shuffle back up the hall a few paces to the next courtroom. The door is open and we are taking a kind of professional interest in the proceedings. At length, John, our Court Officer, opens the door, gets the go ahead from The Judge and we file in.

The plaintiffs lawyer has his briefcase on the table and nobody has any papers out. It’s obvious that it is over. The Judge asks us if we want the good news or the bad news first. We all say “The good news” except for the twenty one year old juror who would prefer the bad news first. I’m sure this has meaning but there is no time to deliberate on it. The good news is that the parties have come to an agreement. The bad news is that we won’t be able to deliberate on this and thus bring it to conclusion. I must confess that up until this very moment, that bit of bad news would have fallen under my definition of good news. But that was a moment ago, and now, now I am inclined to agree.

More good news, she tells us, is that we have been an exceptionally fine jury. I believe this to be a transparent fabrication told to 99 percent of all juries. Still, it’s nice to have avoided the One Percenters. There is some levity as she notes that another juror has dropped out and I tell her that only the good looking ones are left. And then the really good news. Both lawyers want to meet with us to ask questions. Even the Court Secretary wants to be there. This is great because it will give us the opportunity to ask some questions of our own as well as decompress somewhat from this pressurized atmosphere. Not surprisingly The Angry Fat Girl speaks first. The shocker is that she asks us if she comes off too strong. I am equally shocked to find the group generally voicing support for her but then, we aren’t cruel. We let her know gently that this is the case but I doubt that it makes much impression. This is her nature; let it be. That said, in this new air, she actually seems likable and we are glad for her company. JFK Jr. asks the same question and gets a modestly more approving answer.

Then we cover some real meat. Tactics, and how certain ones work though they are transparent and others don’t, even when they are well cloaked. Who has credibility and why. Why some evidence was introduced and why some experts weren’t. The atmosphere can only be described as jovial. I tell The Court Secretary that it is a shortcoming of the system that jurors are not informed of the rules of examination and cross examination. It makes it more difficult to understand the tactics which are being used and it prevents jurors from mining out deliberate omissions.

JFK Jr. then closes in on several of the members and in a low, almost intimate tone asks again about how we viewed his performance. I see him more clearly now, not just as a professional polishing his delivery, but as an unwholesome contagion trading on his good looks and easy manner. However, his vanity is a useable tool and I use it for leverage. I ask him if he knows the other lawyers. He says that he has just met them but that the Spiky Haired Lawyer has already asked him to take a case. It’s almost too easy. I tell him to pass on this message. “Stop with the coat buttoning thing. It doesn’t work.”

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Day #6 – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

A Juror dropped out today. His kid was sick and there was no one else to look after the little tyke. That was the story; as generic as it was unconvincing. This has the happy consequence of bringing into the mix the one other person in the jury-room I feel like I can actually communicate with. He was the First Alternate; one of three backup jurors assigned for just this kind of occasion. He works in the field of Corrections. His name is George and I only mention it because the Religious Lady inflects his name the way “Weezy” did on the Jeffersons. To get it just right you have to tuck your chin in to your chest, make your cheek muscles tight and thrust out your lower lip. Were these two married, it would be ample grounds for divorce.

The Religious Lady is an odd one. She reads her religious paperback but her true love is gossip. Any gossip. All gossip. She is dark, small and rather uptight in a loose way. It’s not easy to explain. She is a stereotype of sorts. She has patterned herself as an Evangelical emulating a Protestant who is satirizing a Baptist. She is full of manic energy and quick to judge; the more so if a condemnation is within easy reach. And yet she will change her tune at the very slightest sign of rational thinking. I’ve been trying to figure it out in terms of race because these issues are clearly at play as evidenced by her several hair styles. These hairstyles suggest that she is a fan of early Jane Fonda movies. Barbarella comes to mind. She wears a crucifix that has the stars and stripes waving diagonally through it. A clear conflict of the separation of church and state.

This morning we are sitting in the jury-room. One of our comrades is two hours late and so we tell stories, read and snack. Sometimes we are laughing and shouting and sometimes the time passes quietly. I’ve read two hundred pages of my book since court started. Finally we move into the courtroom and sit down. We are immediately dismissed for an early lunch because the Religious Lady has a doctor’s appointment. We are to return in one and a half hours.

The woman who was two hours late offers to drive the Religious Lady to her appointment to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the rest of the day. They arrive back from that appointment almost three hours later. It is mid afternoon and we have yet to do a thing. It feels like the group is falling apart around the issue of time. Meanwhile, across the hall another jury-room is alive with laughter and shouting and there are fast food wrappers everywhere. They are nearly out of control and their Court Officer openly keeps company with them. On the other hand, they have been here for seven weeks. I think they would make an interesting case study in group sensory deprivation.

We do finally get into court and we actually have an Expert Witness for the defense. He is eloquent and credible. In a matter of thirty minutes The Angry Fat Girl, with the help of an actual Doctor of Radiology, has completely turned the tide around. Again! The painstakingly assembled sand castle built by JFK Jr. is swept out to sea. You can feel it in the room like an ocean breeze after days of fly infested land breezes. It is somewhat thrilling. The Angry Fat Girl is wearing a heart bracelet and locket and I think to myself, “Somebody loves her.” Then I note the wedding ring on her finger, which I had noted the lack of up until this point, and I feel like maybe they are only props; a way to ingratiate herself to us. It is beyond explanation but because today is Valentines Day I indulge the idea that someone does love her.

The cross examination by JFK Jr. is all about undermining the credibility of the Expert Witness. But as the lawyer for the Injured Van Driver, I have to say, he needs acting lessons. He ends up looking mean and petty. Both he and The Angry Fat Girl use the tactic of saying things that are sure to be stricken from the record but nevertheless are heard by The Jury. The idea is to plant the seed in your brain, never mind how. I am all the way back around to where I started, which is basically to send the plaintiff home with enough money to buy a lotto ticket, but I know the rest of The Jury will not go there. At the end of the day, The Judge admonishes us, as she does every day, not to discuss the case, even with each other until the very end.

As we leave the building, George and I discuss it intensely. We walk together for five blocks; I am lobbying him and I know it. He is not fully convinced. I will give some and so will he. We are ready to take this up tomorrow after closing arguments. George and I take our leave and as I walk home alone, I realize that the plaintiff’s lawyer, JFK Jr., never brought in a live Radiologist to support his Chiropractor’s claim. The reason is obvious; he wanted the Chiropractor to be the one to interpret the MRI, not a Radiologist. If he had produced the Radiologist who wrote the report, it would have given the defense a chance to cross examine. There are some very specific rules about how to ask questions and what can be asked depending if you are examining or cross examining. The Jury doesn’t get clued in on these rules but given a little time you can figure them out. Once you know the rules, you can unravel the tactics and the tactics are everything. It is very much like chess but, given this case and these players, it looks a whole lot more like Scrabble for Juniors.

Day #5 – Can I Get A Witness

John is our Court Officer. He is assigned to us, or rather, we are assigned to him. His function is to escort us from our jury-room to The Court. John tells us when it is ok to enter The Court, and then he escorts us back to the jury-room. He lets The Judge know when we have all arrived. This is rather more involved than one might think. We, as a group, are never on time. We have an assigned hour when we are due in the morning and also when we are due back from breaks. The Judge tells us these times as we exit the courtroom and John, our Court Officer, reminds us again before we leave the courthouse. It is to no avail. We are never on time.

Because time is such an abstract concept in general, and especially so in court, this should come as no surprise. In fact it doesn’t come as a surprise. Like all the other court officers, John, our Court Officer, has all our home numbers and cell numbers. He calls us when we are more than thirty minutes late. That he doesn’t call when any one of us is ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes late only reinforces the sense that time here is not of the essence. In fact, it hardly even enters into the equation.

In the beginning, John, our Court Officer, had to lead us around keeping careful tabs on one and all because the place is a labyrinth of courts and offices. We’ve been here long enough now to know that once we leave our jury-room it is a simple right, right, stairs, left, left, right, left, right, left to get to the courtroom. John, our Court Officer, always reminds us of bathroom opportunities. There are a very limited number of things for him to say to us and no doubt he is only allowed to say those few things. His delivery is flat. He wears his uniform, coat unbuttoned, in a way that makes them look like pajamas. His face is uneventful, his boredom is infinite. He wanders away during court or dozes off in the observation area of the courtroom.

This morning John, our Court Officer, gathered his ducks and led us to the courtroom. John always enters first and tells The Judge we are here and asks if he should let us in. This morning, he should not let us in and John, our Court Officer, steps into The Court and closes the door. We are left to stand in the hall alone. Something is going on. We try to listen to The Judge through the door but it is difficult because the next courtroom down has its door open and a lawyer is doing his summation. In a loud voice, full of disgust and accusation, he is talking about the Plaintiff’s Testicles. Also about painful urination, unsatisfactory intercourse and the plaintiff’s admission that he lies under certain conditions. This guy is making headway no doubt about it. When he accuses the plaintiff of lying, even about his lying, I am completely convinced. It takes me hours to unravel that one but of course by that time The Jury had already rendered its verdict and anyway a little showmanship is always appreciated. We pretend to be repulsed as we turn our ears to this other court but it is no use. The shouting behind our own door has become audible, almost legible. Yep, something’s going on and Her Honor has lost her composure.

Then it’s quiet and John, our Court Officer, opens the door and tells us to enter the court. We file in and take our assigned seats. Her Honor has her “Gosh, it’s nice to see you!” smile on. She tells us that she can’t tell us the Robert Burns poem again because she’s already told it to us but that, unfortunately, the same reason applies. The doctor for the defense has failed to show up again. I look over to The Angry Fat Girl and she smiles like she’s holding down a furball. And that’s when I see it. At first I misidentify it because it’s so large. She must have been desperate or something. It is one more sign from a loud person who doesn’t believe she is being heard.

John, our Court Officer, escorts us back to our room. Alone with each other again I say to the group “Either she’s been working on her car or it’s Ash Wednesday.” The juror who has the tote bag emblazoned with:

“The Family That Prays Together Stays Together”

beats me with her newspaper.

Day #2 – Cross Examination

It is apparent from the moment we enter the courtroom that I will be denied my opportunity to correct the unsightly behavior of the Spiky Haired Lawyer with the buttoning compulsion; the one representing the Van’s Passenger. He has, in the overnight hours, come to his senses and decided that any amount settled on out of court is better than going up against The Angry Fat Girl. Given the quality of his client and the exceeding unlikelyhood of her actually having sustained any injuries at all, I have to think that this caused him no loss of sleep whatsoever, except perhaps in those hours when he was busy spending his contingency fee.

 

The Angry Fat Girl must see Out of Court Settlement possibilities dancing before her like so many french fries. She has not changed her outfit, except for her blouse, since yesterday and I have to think this is a bold tactic designed to throw off the other attorneys. I let my eyes settle on her so as to take in the whole picture and I realize that her dress is not black like her jacket but rather a deep blue so very near to black that I wage a small debate with myself about it before giving in to the truth; she’s colorblind. Perhaps not in the medical sense but for all practical purposes. This is borne out by the fact of her blouse. It is a hot turquoise. So is her barrette. And the bauble hanging from her jacket that appears to be in the cephalopod family. Also her notebook. It is told of the great attorney Clarence Darrow that he would insert a wire in his cigar and light it at the beginning of the court session. The ash, thus suspended, would grow ever longer without falling, grabbing all the attention in the room for himself even as others were speaking. I’m not saying this is The Angry Fat Girl’s intent but I am not saying otherwise.

 

The two remaining plaintiffs, the Van Driver and the Young Asian Woman, take the witness stand and say their piece. They are drab and rehearsed.

 

One comes away without anything but a sense that something small has happened in their lives and they have been encouraged to pick at the scab until someone pays them not to pick it anymore. The Young Asian Woman has clearly had some kind of suffering but the extent is impossible to determine. She is not entirely unpleasant in stature or demeanor so I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. She was hurt. It caused a disruption in her life and studies. She was an architecture student at Pratt during this time and since architecture is hot right now I think she’ll come out of this lawsuit with something in her pocket.

 

As I mentioned, this plaintiff was in another accident; a three car pileup only ten days earlier. Does this complicate things at all? Under a withering barrage of objections and against every promise not to do so the Angry Fat Girl pressed this point. She would begin a sentence and continue while an objection was made and on through the objection being sustained until she was complete. She is angry and feels like people don’t hear her. It got to the point where The Judge told her she had to stop talking or they were going to have to take it outside. Which they did. Along with the other lawyers and The Court Reporter.

 

I am somewhat fascinated by The Scrivener and have even found myself not paying attention to the goings on in favor of watching her endlessly flaccid demeanor.        

 

I am sitting in the front row of the jury box, on the third base line, right at third base. I can see her, The Court Reporter, the true object of my interest, from the side. I am at a good enough angle to see her yawn but not enough so as to see her blouse. What color is her blouse? It becomes important because, except for her skin and hair she is a study in grey. I know her blouse is grey. It must be! It would be a failure of mythology if it were anything but grey. An unacceptable fracture in the perfection of her stereotype. I check the cuffs of her knit sweater repeatedly but nothing creeps past them. It dawns on me that she is Irish. Yes, even obviously so. I don’t know how this escaped me but then she is like wine, revealing herself slowly and only to those paying close, no not close, strict, attention. I adjust myself in my chair but really I am trying to get a look at the whole of her over the edge of the jury box. She is wearing dark sensible shoes. Grey capri pants and a grey knit sweater. They are of the same tone. It is implausible that her blouse would not be grey and I am left only to hope that it is the same grey. Lunchtime arrives and we adjourn. She remains at an oblique angle and I am left to hang.

 

Later in the afternoon, as the lawyers are taking a side bar and we are able to take a brief recess The Court Reporter stands and turns her back to me. She is talking to the Court Secretary but it is a torture. She has no idea of my interest of course but it seems that every move is deliberately designed to keep my interest and keep me from final knowledge. Finally, she stretches and turns and there it is. The blouse. It is grey. The same tone as her capri pants and knit sweater and also of her stenography machine. They are all identical. Her hand bag is there. It is grey though slightly darker. Her chair, slightly lighter. She is perfect. Then she speaks and the spell is broken. She sounds exactly like my Aunt Sheila.

 

There is a blue vase sitting next to The Judge. It has dried flowers, robbed of their color, surrounding a red silk rose. There is also a real rose; it’s head bent down poking over the lip. It was cut short and has been dead for days.

 

 

Day #1 – Opening Arguments

Today is the first day of the trial. I am Juror #5. The Judge is a dyed redhead. Under her frock, a silk or nylon leopard print blouse is clearly visible. No wedding band but a huge ring of emerald and gold on her right middle finger. I can only hope it’s costume. It’s as big as a man’s watch, which she also wears. She is in her late fifties and must have been pretty good looking in her youth. I recognize her type as a feather, sprouted from one of the more eccentric wings of my tribe.

The Court Reporter is female. I can tell because of the skirt and fingernails. There are no other indicators. She wears no makeup and no expression on her face. She is as pale as death. As soon as I saw her I thought of Bartleby the Scrivener.

In God We Trust signs, made of engraved brown plastic, are hung outside the courtroom door and over the head of The Judge. The eagle on top of the flagpole behind The Judge has its wing tips jammed up into the acoustic tile ceiling. By the time we get into the courtroom, it has already been decided that The Cab Driver was at fault. All that is left to us, The Jury, is to determine the amount, if any, of compensation for the supposedly injured parties.

Apparently they were able to determine the guilt of the defendant, The Cab Driver, by the fact that he plowed his still accelerating vehicle into a 15 passenger van, sitting at a full stop in traffic, on the Brooklyn Bridge. His cab had to be towed away. The passenger in the back of his cab, a young woman, is claiming lots of pain and suffering based on this accident and not at all on the three car pileup in which she was involved the previous week. I believe her because she’s Asian and they don’t lie about this sort of thing.

The Driver and Passenger of the van are claiming neck and back pain. MRI’s supposedly tell of degenerative conditions in the two of them. There will doubtless be lots of medical testimony. They both work for a city run homeless organization. They have both been under the care of the same Chiropractor for two years. I hope they don’t think they’re going to be getting any money out of this. I hope they’re in it just for the civic pride of lynching an Arab Cabby. This is my hope.

Each of the four upstanding citizens involved in this debacle, the three plaintiffs and the defendant, are represented by different lawyers. In essence, this is three lawsuits being tried simultaneously. The lawyer for the Injured Van Driver is the handsomest and knows it. He looks kind of like JFK Jr. His description of the enormity of the impact and the pain suffered by his client are utterly unconvincing but it isn’t unpleasant to watch him try. The lawyer for the Young Asian Woman is bearded and somewhat limp although he would seem to have the most to work with.

The Van’s Passenger, who’s pain is not an improbable byproduct of her weight and age, has a lawyer with rather scruffy hair. At first I thought he had a slightly punkish thing going on because the hair was a little too studied looking, but after seeing him several times over the last few days I am surprised that this is actually the case. It’s odd to be surprised when you’re right about something but there you have it. He has an annoying habit of buttoning the top two buttons of his suit every single time he stands up. It’s like watching one of those preachers who puts their glasses on for the sole purpose of having a prop to take off when it’s time to make a point, which is just about constantly. I have vowed to myself to tell him my feelings on the matter at the conclusion of the trial. All this is made worse by his chubbiness, which is not pronounced but is exaggerated by his hunched shoulders. His shoulders are not stooped so much as drawn up to minimize the opinion that he may have a neck. He is hopeless and should settle out of court for bus fare.

They all pale before the lawyer for the defendant. She is short, round and angry. We only had the opening arguments today and she objected constantly. The Judge, who is paying a little bit of attention, finds her course and annoying. I believe it is probable that many people feel this way about her. She is a bulldog in cheap black business dress that is screaming at the seams. Her accent would make any girl from South Philly proud. She is so distressing that I have not dared to mentally undress her. She’s just right for the job.