After being called to panel, which is where they winnow a group of 30 down to 13 (12 jurors plus one alternate in case anyone calls in sick), we're assigned numbers and seated in the jury box and courtroom seats. We meet the Judge, the lawyers for the Plaintiff and the Defendant, and answer a series of questions about our livelihoods, whether or not we know any cops or lawyers, and whether serving would pose a serious financial hardship to us. My family is lousy with lawyers (UM IN A GOOD WAY) so I'm usually dismissed. Twice I've made it to panel only to have the case settle during a break and no longer require a trial.
Usually this portion of the day is kind of interesting, especially in L.A. My panel has a couple writers, a production assistant, a sound editor, an actress, a musician, and a grip. 60-65% of the people in the room speak with an accent and may or may not understand English very well, which, yeah, makes me a bit nervous.
Sometimes you find out things you don't feel right knowing, like how the guy who drives a paint truck lives paycheck to paycheck and won't be able to pay his rent if he's placed on a jury for even three days, or how the student who's on academic probation can't miss any more classes or she'll be kicked out of school. I felt uncomfortable listening to people being forced to explain their personal situations to a room full of strangers.
Anyway, after playing Getting to Know You, we hear a few tidbits about the case. Basically, the Plaintiff is trying to evict the Defendant for not paying rent. That's all they tell us for now, because now we've come to point where they have to find out if any of us are crazy.
Remember that episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon is called back to Chicago to serve on a jury, so she shows up in a Princess Leia uniform?
Some people reeeeeeeallllly don't want to serve, so they pretend to be crazy. And some people actually are crazy. For example, at my panel, we were asked, "Do any of you just hate landlords?" and this one woman raised her hand and launched into a story about how her landlord broke into her apartment in the middle of the night, and how it's not fair for any of them to demand rent from people in this economic climate because "times is tough." Questioned gently by the Plaintiff's lawyer, she asserted that no one should ever be kicked out of their apartment for not paying rent, not even after 6-8 months. She might have said a year; I'm not sure, I was too busy trying to lift my jaw off the floor.
She was dismissed first.
Other people on my panel: a guy who looks like Finn from Glee, a girl who looks like a brunette Amy Smart, a guy who resembles the band director from The Simpsons, some white people, some black people, some Eastern European people, some Hispanic people, etc.
And suddenly there's only 13 of us left, and the trial starts. I cannot overstate how jarring this was. I've been coming to the courthouse nearly every year for 10 years, and it's always mind-numblingly slow moving, but then once you're selected, BAM!! All of a sudden everything moves fast-fast-fast. We're given notebooks and pens, the opening statements begin, and the first witness is called to the stand, all before we can catch our breath and actually comprehend that we are NOW SERVING ON A JURY where PEOPLE'S ACTUAL LIVES WILL BE AFFECTED, and I'm thinking, Is this really happening?
Next Time: Yes, it's really happening, and the case has at least three major twists I don't see coming.
Also: I learn the definition of "chinches."