Friday, February 19, 2010

Jury Duty, Part 5: The Jurying

I don't even know what that means. It just screamed out for a sequel title.

Well, it's taken me nearly two weeks to summarize three days, but in my defense I've been renovating a townhome (okay, my husband's doing most of it, but I give opinions), driving back and forth to Palm Springs to visit my parents, working a day job, working on novel revisions, and battling a stomach bug. So there. Wow, I sound defensive. I don't mean it, Internet. I'm just a teeny bit cranky from stress but I really had intended to write this update sooner.

So anyway, after the first witness (the Plaintiff himself) was called back to the stand on the morning of the third day, the lawyers made their closing arguments. Throughout the first day I kept thinking, "This is AMAZING," because being part of the jury felt like a cross between a kind of live theater in which the audience chooses the outcome, and some David E. Kelley show. And then I'd try to be less giddy because there were some important issues at stake.

In fact, that was one of the most heartening things about serving, and the jury process in general. EVERYONE CARED. No matter how much the jurors griped about being called in, or pumped their fists and hissed "Yessss!" when they thought they were being dismissed, once the trial began, we all took it very, very seriously. We wanted to do right by both parties, and I believe we did.

Just before deliberations, the Judge had to select an alternate from the 13 jurors. (Oddly, instead of picking one juror from a hat, he picked 12 jurors one by one, and then figured out who was left. I feel there was a missed opportunity for swiftness here.)

I was convinced I'd be the alternate, because why not, and then I wouldn't get a chance to affect the verdict (alternates must stay, but aren't allowed to voice any thoughts). This went on for about 11 hat pickings, and then I was called and some other guy was declared the alternate. He didn't seem that mad; I would have been disappointed -- and perhaps relieved that I wouldn't have to literally pass judgment on anyone, because that is a bit nerve-wracking.

We were told to use our notes, our memories, and our knowledge of the law -- which the Judge explained to us and handed out, regarding tenants and evictions -- to reach a conclusion.  9 out of 12 jurors were required to agree on a point before it would pass. The Plaintiff had to prove every single point in order to win, but we found that he'd only proven about 70%. For example, we found that the tenant did in fact fail to pay rent when it was due per the rental agreement, but that his attempts to pay before the  "Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit" deadline (midnight on the third day) were unfairly refused, likely because the Plaintiff wanted to renovate the building and sell it. 

The Defendant was told at 5 pm that he was too late to pay, which under California law is not true; however, the Plaintiff's Three-Day Notice was also legal, in that it told the Defendant where and when and between what hours the rent should be paid. Tricky! 

The deliberations room had two bathrooms, a long table with chairs, and a bowl of Halloween (??) candy laid out. We reached our verdict in favor of Defendant one minute before the mandatory lunch period, had to leave for an hour and a half, came back, re-reached the verdict, and handed it over to the court assistant. It was a bittersweet victory, considering the only thing the Defendant won was the chance to keep living in a cockroach, chinches and mouse-filled apartment.

While the lawyers and both parties were called back in, we had some time to kill, and vented like crazy about certain witnesses, which was awesome after being forced to keep our thoughts to ourselves for so long.

Back in the courtroom, this is how cool the Judge was. He made a point of acknowledging the alternate juror by quoting John Milton's poem, "On His Blindness":

"They also serve, who only stand and wait."

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