Friday, January 13, 2012

Take that, criminals!

(Judge Gregory) Holder asked how many of the jurors would volunteer to serve on juries again.

They all raised their hands.
"I guarantee you you will be summoned," he said. -, November 4, 2011
Never let it be said that Judge Holder is not a man of his word.
Less than 90 days after this little misadventure, I found myself sitting in a waiting room on the second floor of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse at 800 Twiggs in downtown Tampa, thumbing through copies of Bassmaster and American Baby magazines (did you know that when babies are learning to crawl, it's not important if they show a natural inclination to go backward instead of forward?), waiting for my name to be called. A large group was called almost immediately and then a really long period passed before any other announcements were made, and I found myself struggling to stay awake and semi-lucid at 10 a.m. (did you know that Mike McClelland's lure of choice is a 1/2-ounce Screaming Eagle spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades?). In addition to worrying about what would happen if I fell asleep and missed my name being called, I started worrying about not being called at all. Wasting an entire day sitting around a courthouse doing nothing when I could be A) making money or B) sitting around my apartment doing nothing was not an appealing prospect. Hey, I'm here; let's do some justice (did you know that feeding right before bed time inhibits a baby's ability to fall asleep but about an hour before bed time, a snack of warm milk or sliced bananas, jigging spoons, jig-and-pigs or craws, crankbaits, and finesse baits yield good results in winter months, when they tend to be more slow moving? I told you I was a little loopy and having trouble staying awake at this point).
Around 11, I was called as part of a group of 36 people. We were led to a courtroom on the 5th floor and began the voir dire process, which I believe is Latin for "audition". This consisted of the lawyers asking us personal questions about our opinions on things that may pertain to the case and even our own criminal histories. Answering incorrectly, or too correctly, could get you booted and sent back to the waiting room.
"Do I know anyone who works in law enforcement? Sure, but I don't like them...not that I dislike cops. I do! I mean, they're okay. I'm not a fanatic about it or anything. I'm not a fanatic about anything really. I'm pretty normal. This is what a normal person would say, right? Maybe I should shut up now. What was the question?"
I felt a sense of accomplishment when my name was read as one of the eight that would be retained to preside over the trial. "Ha ha! I beat you suckers", I said in my mind to the 28 losers who filed out, done for the day and free to do whatever they wanted the next...wait. Maybe I didn't really win. Oh well, it felt nice to be wanted.
"What? You want to spend time with me? You actually want me here? On purpose? You chose me over other people? And you want me to come back tomorrow? Okay, yes. I am in love with you for ever and ever too."
"Yes sir, we validate parking."
"Oh...okay. Thanks."

I left and came back bright and early (8:30) the next morning. The judge gave us instructions, very specifically mentioning more than once that Tweeting or blogging details of the proceedings was strictly forbidden. I can certainly see where this would be a thoroughly post-modern problem and something that could be difficult-but-necessary to keep under control, given the population's predilection to share details of their daily experience and how that could negatively impact efforts to conduct a fair hearing. But I felt like he was talking directly to me every time he brought it up.
The trial began, two dudes accused of felony accounts of aggravated battery with intent to cause great bodily harm. We listened to testimony, took a break, more testimony, lunch, testimony and closing arguments. By 3:30, we were in the jury room, getting ready to deliberate.
I don't know what it is about certain situations and venues that makes apparently repressed, attention-starved adults suddenly decide to act out. You see it a lot at panel discussions and seminars, where one person decides they're smarter or more interesting than the speaker and now it's showtime. In jury rooms, at least in my limited experience, suddenly everybody is the illegitimate love child of Henry Fonda in "12 Angry Men" and Angela Lansbury in "Murder She Wrote" and Atticus Finch can sit down, shut the hell up and learn a thing or two. 
"I wonder why the cops didn't..."
"These charges don't really seem to apply..."
"I'm not even sure they proved that these guys were even there!"
Luckily for me and the taxpayers of Hillsborough County, I studied at the feet for years of someone who was an absolute master of keeping meetings on track against all odds and personality quirks (she knows who she is) and even though I wasn't the official Foreman (I should have been!), I was able to subversively steer things in the right direction. Not influencing anyone's opinions about the facts of the case, mind you. That would be morally wrong. Just to keep people focused and on point. We weren't there to talk about our feelings, inherent flaws in the judicial system or detective theories that would make Sherlock Holmes take a Xanax and get in bed for three days. We were there to decide if two guys were guilty based on the evidence that was presented to us. That means if 1 + 1 + X = 3, it's not beyond a reasonable doubt for us to determine that 1 = X (this is the entirety of my understanding of algebra, by the way). I'm sorry, Dr. Kimball; there is no one-armed man. After very little debate over the nest 45 minutes or so, we returned unanimous verdicts of GUILTY in both cases.
I'm able to blog about this now because since the case is over (aside from the sentencing, with which I have no involvement whatsoever), the judge said we could talk about any and all of it to anybody we want. Which means I could tell you the names of the defendants and the nature of the crimes in full detail...but I'm not going to*. And the reason for that is I don't feel completely sure that their friends and gang family members won't track me down to chat about it if I call too much attention to it. A bailiff told us after the fact that we had done well to find them guilty because these were seriously bad dudes that need to be off the street. He wasn't kidding. I checked out their history (after the trial) and it was...extensive. One of them is facing another trial soon for shooting a woman and putting her in a wheelchair. So there's that. Apparently, I'm not just being paranoid because when we were excused, we were escorted through a series of hallways to an elevator that dropped us in an alley behind the courthouse, so we didn't have to go through the courthouse lobby and past any gang family members. This makes me glad in retrospect that I didn't make any victory gestures toward them when the verdicts were being read, like grinning and mouthing the words, "yeah, I hope you like wearing orange and drinking toilet wine for the next 20 years, assholes", while subtlely flipping them off, because I really, really wanted to. How often do you get the opportunity to flash an obscene gesture to someone who truly deserves it and they can't do anything about it without a gaggle of deputies putting them in a chokehold?

I know, I know; the courts and jails are a mess and it's entirely possible...maybe even likely...that they'll be out on the street again well before their sentences actually end. But I know that I had a part in keeping them out of circulation for a little while, and if that prevents even one person from being the victim of a crime they would have committed, then that's something I can feel good about. 
Criminals can kiss my ass.

* if you really want to know, message me directly and I'll tell you all about it privately.



bronsont said...

I don't know about the rest of your readers, but I know I feel safer this morning, knowing the judicial system has survived and that you have done your civic duty :-)

Clare said...

Ye. I did in fact know that it's perfectly natural for babies to go backward a lot.

And he probably was talking directly to you. You know why.

Still, thanks for putting up with gross public restrooms and horrible snack bar food for the benefit of the community. At least you got some sleep in between bottle feeding and lure tying,

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