Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Real Jury Duty Tales

Day 1... Monday

There's a reason why no one wants to do jury duty in NYC. I overhead one woman put it best, "I'd rather be at work than here and I hate my job!"

The Bronx courthouse is on the other side of the borough. I had to either take a bus or a bus and a subway. Either way, it wasn't close. I sat on the Bx1 bus which let me out in front of the courthouse. Along the way, I had to sit on a crowded city bus for forty-three minutes which weaved its way in and out of different neighborhood representing people from all over the political and socioeconomic spectrum. The signs of poverty and plight don't sneak up on you. Rather, it's in your face. The Bronx is the poorest section of New York City. Minorities represent 90% of the population. More single mothers live in the South Bronx than nay other single concentrated area in America. Outside of Miami Dade County, no other area has more Hispanic people East of the Mississippi. With under funded schools, majority of its residents on welfare, and stuck in a bastion of no hope... crime runs rampant. No wonder no one wants to do jury duty. And not one person was going to vote for Bush in those parts. I figured they wouldn't even vote for Kerry either. To them... it's the same white, rich guy. A vote for them isn't going to change their lives. Lets face it, more South Bronx boys and girls who enlisted in the military got sent home in body bags from Iraq and Afghanistan than in all those posh suburban communities like Greenwich, Oyster Bay, and Chevy Chase combined. Poor kids fight rich men's wars. Its been happening since armed conflicts began eons ago.

I grabbed a donut and Orange Gatorade and three newspapers before I wandered inside the well crafted white marble structure. With Yankee Stadium three blocks away, the only other majestic piece of architecture in the area was the courthouse. All jurors had to go through a long, tedious security line... just like at an airport with metal detectors and X-ray machines... with the sole exception that every security person was armed.

I went upstairs to Room 212. Rectangular in shape, the narrow room was the length of a football field with rows of eight seats lining both sides, split by a long aisle of poles and TV screens hoisted fifteen feet in the air. Vending machines lined the back wall of the room. I found a seat alongside the far wall, near the windows. Nearly everyone was flipping through a newspaper, magazine or best seller. Sadness loomed over everyone heads. One girl in my row kept fidgeting. She would not stop moving around in her seat and moving her leg up and down. It was annoying just sitting there knowing she sat in my section.

The main dude at the front counter barked a message over the loudspeaker. He told everyone who claimed they did not speak English to go to the back of the room and turn in their juror cards. A woman repeated his message in Spanish. He warned them that if they were lying... the courts will find out. They intended to grill their employers and family members. If they were caught lying about speaking English, they'd be fined $500 and worse... scheduled to do jury duty during Christmas week. They already nabbed 170 liars and were looking to add more. A swarm of non-English jurors ran to the back of the room. Some were willing to take that risk. They wanted to get the hell out of the jury room at all costs.

After a few minutes, they aired a bad video on the TV screens. I almost expected to see Troy McClure from The Simpsons lore start talking. "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such videos as 'Welcome to the DMV'. You've been selected for jury duty. Welcome!"

The video was aimed towards fifth graders. I was insulted. I was bored. I should have started drinking at 8am. Then I realized that the majority of jurors aren't the sharpest tacks in the drawer. They needed the explanation. I looked around. Arrogance? Who knows. But I felt I was the smartest person in the room. Well, not that smart. I wasn't able to get myself out of this mess.

I read all three NYC newspapers, starting off with the NY Times and working my way down the literary ladder to the Daily News and then the paltry NY Post. I opened up Wil Wheaton's latest book and started reading. Every few moments, the guy on the microphone would call a list of names. Looking for the Irish sounding name in a group of Hispanic names was easy. When they got to Martinez I'd perk up and pay attention. After the got to the Ns, I went back to my book.

At 11:00am I was called with 39 other names. Dead man walking. I was relieved and irked. I didn't have to sit with the peanut gallery anymore but I was going to be inside a court room, something I was not looking forward too. Thank God I didn't start drinking at 8am.

The six floor courtroom was very small. Only three rows of long church style pews were crammed in the back. A table of lawyers and defendants sat to the right. The judge and the court reporter were in the middle underneath the ominous seal of the State of New York. To the right was the DA and to his left were the jury seats. I glanced out the window and I was astonished to see Yankee Stadium's outfield! It was an amazing view. Stuck in the crowded seats, the bailiff called up fourteen names. We were told to sit in the seats. I was the seventh name called. I took a deep breath and sat in the jury box. I was one of two white males. The other guy was a cop. Half were men, the other half were women. The judge got up and gave an impassioned speech about the responsibility of being a juror on a murder case. He told us that the prosecution would not be seeking the death penalty, but it was still an important case. He told us that although the American justice system is flawed and not perfect... yet it still reigns as the best and most partial in all of the world. I felt as though he made eye contact with me more than any of the other jurors. Perhaps he was trying to address a future foreman. At that point he introduced the Prosecutor. The assistant DA who was a white guy in a cheap suit who made 35K a year. In the far corner, they're were two young Hispanic men... the accused. They each had a lawyer. One lawyer was a one of the sharp looking sharks other wise known as a criminal attorney with a finely tailored pinstripe suit and a shiny Rolex. The other lawyer wore an off the rack ugly brown suit. He looked like Danny DeVito. He looked like he just got up.

The judged asked the jurors to tell a little bit about themselves. I was a little nervous because the court reporter was recording everything everyone said. Juror 1 was a Haitian woman with two kids from Soundview. She managed maids at a Manhattan hotel. Juror 2 was a Hispanic guy from Kingsbridge with three kids. He worked at Cablevision. Juror 3 was a black guy from Norwood. He was a physical therapist with twins. Juror 4 was a white cop from Co-op City. He had three kids. Juror 5 was a black woman, a cop with a kid. The judge joked that he had never seen two cops get picked for the same case... and sit next to each other! They didn't know each other. Juror 6 was a white woman, the wife of a cop and mother of three from Throgs Neck. I was Juror 7.

"I live in Riverdale. Single, with no kids. I'm a novelist and screenwriter."

The rest of the other jurors not picked shuffled to get a good look at me. Even both defendants took their time to give me a look over. Have you ever been clocked by two dudes accused of murder? I was as uncomfortable as a hooker in church. To make matters worse the judge made some smart remark.

"Mr. McGrupp, you know that you will not be required to do your own research for the trial. I can't have jurors running around cracking the case like they do in those Hollywood movies."

He paused to allow everyone to chuckle.

"But if you do write this up, make sure they get someone handsome to play me."

"Of course, you Honor."

More laughs. Even the defendants smiled before resuming their stoic blank stares.

For the next two hours three lawyers grilled all of us in the jury box. The Prosecution seemed to asked me the most questions.

"Mr. McGrupp, if I told you that we were unable to produce a murder weapon would you still be able to weigh the facts of the case and give a guilty verdict?"

Then the defendants' lawyers got up one by one. The shark was a grade A asshole. He spoke down to all the jurors like we were six year olds. He trashed the Prosecutor. If there were cameras there, I'm sure he'd ham it up even more. I didn't like him from the first second I saw him and the way he goaded me into making a comment he wanted to hear pissed me off some more.

"Mr. McGrupp can you distinguish the difference betting being falsely accused and being mistakenly accused?"

Of course. I can tell the difference between an asshole and a jerkoff. With sheer disdain, I always gave the lawyers lengthy answers, avoiding the simple cut and dry, "Yes" or "No" answers everyone else seemed to give. I was trying to show them that I was not a sheep and they'd have to bring their best bullshit to sneak a fastball by me.

The Danny DeVito lawyer was a little nicer, but equally as scummy. Chances are those kids killed a guy and he was trying to blow off the severity of the case... treating it more like a purse snatching than a homicide. He grilled everyone and again, he seemed to ask me the most questions.

"Mr. McGrupp have you ever been in a fistfight before?"

The saddest thing was that this case happened in July 2001. It was backlogged for over three years. I dunno what was worse. Knowing that the system is slanted against poor people and minorities? Or knowing that as a poker player, I could pick up on the body language of the criminal attorneys and the defendants. I was sick to my stomach because I was getting the vibes that they were guilty even though they were dressed in suits and trying to act innocent. I did not want to be picked for the case.

The judge sent us to the jury room for twenty minutes. I stared out the window at Yankee Stadium eagerly awaiting the playoffs to begin. I chatted with the cop. He said, "You and me are not getting picked. No way the defense wants the white cop and the smart guy on sitting on the jury."

I hopped he was right. Twenty minutes later, we were called back inside and the Judge said that they already had several jurors selected and they were going to pick three from my group. Of course they picked the three people who said the least amount of stuff. All three were minorities and two of them were women.

The judged excused us to lunch. It was almost ten minutes before 2pm and he said we had until 3pm to report to the jury room. I ran outside and missed the lunch rush. I got a seat the Courthouse Diner right behind a group of Fox Sports workers. They were covering the upcoming Yankees-Twins game and were on their lunch break. I ate a bacon cheeseburger and fries with an iced tea with lemon. Bill was $10 including tip.

I had 45 minutes left on my break and wandered over to the Yankee Tavern, one block from the stadium. I sat down at the bar and a cute blonde in her 30s wearing a tank top and camouflage pants spoke to me in a slight Southern accent. I ordered a Stella Artois and began scribbling down notes in my pad. She chatted with the regulars... old guys in Yankee hats complaining about Kerry and Bush and all things related to Martha Stewart. I downed another pint after she convinced me with her sweat twang, "Another beer?" Bill was $10 including tip.

I got back upstairs at 2:58pm. The room was half empty. I sat down and read the rest of Wil's book. At 3:30pm the guy on the microphone told us to go home and come back at 9:30am. I ran out of the courthouse, the second person out the front door as I whizzed by the court officers at the X-ray machines. First day done. I was getting paid $40 a day for jury service. I spent almost $30 on food, drinks, transportation and newspapers. At least I was up $10 for the day.

Day 2... Tuesday

I got to sleep in a little later, but ut I realized I was getting sicker and my health as not improving as I had hoped. It was freezing when I woke up... the coldest day since the Winter. I took the bus to the subway and rode the subway to the Yankee Stadium stop. I saved 10 minutes and spent that time outside eating donuts and reading the NY Times.

I saw the fidgeting girl again, that time avoiding her row. I picked a seat near the window and read the rest of the tabloid newspapers. I did not get to finish Wil's book the day before and started the final pages. I looked up and a smoking hot Puerto Rican girl sat down next to me. She resembled Jessica Alba with once exception... Jessica was in Hollyweird somewhere, and the look alike was sitting right next to me. I wanted to slowly peel her clothes off with my teeth.

"Did you get called yesterday?"

She rolled her eyes. "I fuckin' got called for a murder case!"

I love NYC women. The second word that rolled off of her pouty lips was a derivative of "fuck". Hot damn!

"We got called for the same case. I didn't get picked. You did. Aren't you that screenwriter?"

She remembered me! How could I have missed her? I guess I was so nervous that morning I failed to notice that she was part of my group.

"You were funny. Those fuckin' lawyers were talking down to everyone. And you were snapping back at them. I guess you weren't picked, huh?"

I shook my head.

"Whatya reading?"

I flashed her Wil's book. She paused for a second as I handed it to her. She looked at the back cover and thumbed through the pages for a few seconds.

"Isn't that the kid from Stand By Me?"


"He's cute. I used to have a huge crush on him."

Wil's got groupies in the Bronx. I chuckled then blurted out, "I always though River Phoenix was dreamy."

She laughed right away, even touching my arm twice before she handed the book to back to me. We spoke for the next ninety minutes. About what I can't recall. I was staring at her tits the entire time, well most of the time. I poorly attempting to look her in the eye every now and then to let her know I wasn't a complete pervert.

At 11:10am my jury duty crush got called. I would never see her again. She also stole my Wil Wheaton book. By 11:15 I started dozing off. The next hour was a battle. I would be asleep for a few minutes then wake up when I heard a list of names called. When he got through all the Ms... I'd close my eyes and doze back off. I found a cure for my insomnia... jury duty.

The guy with the microphone excused us to lunch at 12:30am. We had ninety minutes. Again, I scurried out of the courthouse like a little kid bolting out of school at 3pm. I ran down the stairs, past the security officers and down the white marble steps onto 161st Street. With Yankee Stadium looming overhead, I wandered over to a fast food joint with no lines. I walked up to the counter and ordered a Spicy Tender chicken sandwich and an iced tea.

With 75 minutes left in my break, I walked back over to the Yankee Tavern. Before I could take two steps in the bar, the blonde bartender shouted, "A pint of Stella?"

She remembered me too.

"Please. What's your name?"

"Ally. Like Ally McBeal."

"You're not from here. From the South, right? North Carolina?"

Her eyes perked up as she poured me my draft beer. "How did you know?"

"The subtle accent. Southern but not pronounced. Asheville perhaps?"

That was a guess. She dressed like the bohemian type and looked like the actress Laura Liney's funked out younger sister.

"Charlotte originally, but Asheville for two years."

"Great. I miss the South. Used to live in Atlanta for four years in the early 1990s."

"Really? Me too. Where?"

"I went to Emory, so over near there. What bars did you work at?"

"Did you know that er, um.... 24K place?"

24K was a strip club. I spent many a night there in my late teens.

"Sure on Cheshire Bridge Road near the Waffle House. Been there. I always liked Cheetah better."

"That's it!"

Small world, eh? She used to bartend at the strip bar I used to hit with my fraternity brothers. A decade later we're at a bar in the Bronx. She's getting me drunk and I was watching the Dodgers and Cardinals baseball game.

When I stumbled back into the jury room, all of the TVs had the baseball game on. I sat for two and half hours before without getting called. When the guy with the microphone excused us for the day, I ran back out and headed to the Yankee Tavern for one more drink before I rode the subway home. Yankees fans were beginning to fill up the bar. Game 1 was set to begin in a few hours.

I spent $32 on day 2. I made at least $8.

Last 5 Books I Saw People Reading at Jury Duty...
1. The Holy Bible
2. The Heart by Maya Angelou
3. Cry, Beloved Country by Alan Paton
4. Whispers by Dean Koontz
5. The President's Daughter by Mariah Stewart

No comments:

Post a Comment