The triennial trek was today. The judicial gods no longer favor me by inviting me for my ever-three-year jury service at the West Roxbury Courthouse. That is neither in western Roxbury nor in West Roxbury. However, it is a one-mile walk north of my digs in JP.
Instead, I got to go ahead to Suffolk Superior Court, out the back of Center Plaza where the Boston Computer Society (I was member 274) used to be. The euphemistically and optimistically named Pemberton Square can be nice enough, in a prison exercise yard sort of way, in calm, sunny weather…not today in the wind punished and dank morning.
The door has a small signing saying that jurors are welcome at 7:30 a.m. Our summons read be there at 8. We fools who came before or even shortly after 8 learned why New Englanders like to arrive late.
The joke behind that welcome sign is that while there are three sets of doors and security screening operations, only one is for jurors. It is a single door. Traffic is seriously constipated. A long queue of sincere citizens shivered and teared while the single x-ray machine spit us out about 40 seconds per, while only about 10 of us could get in the door at a time. Hardy har.
The last one was a grim and gritty child abuse mess. The stepfather was all over and in the girl from about 10 years old, while the mother ignored it all. Everyone was sleazy. The defense attorney looked and acted like some barstool jockey from Mean Streets. The assistant DA was just as bad; I couldn’t believe a word from his mouth. He only bothered to present any evidence in one of four counts related to the rapes. The jury ended up torn and acquitting in the others; he certainly failed to meet any burden of proof. The nincompoop was so arrogant he went up to the sidebar after the verdict to decry it to the judge, who rather than scold him, said he agreed that it was obvious the miscreant was guilty. I would just as soon seen them all tossed in jail — defendant, mom, prosecutor, attorney and judge. These were not the pretty, smart folk of TV dramas. Only the defendant was true to type.
I was looking for a touch of what the juror’s handbook holds out. “As a juror, you will have to make difficult judgements involving all of the human passions – love, hate, greed, anger, etc.” Forget the grammar and syntax. That is a better offer than I’ve had this month.
This promise reduced my regret at likely missing the symposium The Culture of Same-Sex Marriage in New England Friday at Roger Williams University. Yes, no, yes, maybe. I wanted both.
Instead, as adults all to often experience, the sizzle quickly smoldered. Five hours of waiting had the same bookend at start and finish. Chief Justice Barbara Rouse on the taped intro said it and security officer whom we saw about hourly said it at the end. Even if we did not get on a jury or even into a courtroom for jury selection, just knowing that there was a room with over 300 bored potential jurors was enough to make many defense attorneys and defendants in both civil and criminal cases settle before trial.
The court officer, a Latino who identified himself as Henry, knows that patter flat. He may even believe it. Regardless, it’s his job to have enough cattle to herd into the chute for each courtroom when a judge calls for a jury pool.
I pretty much knew when I arrived and got my ticket with 320 on it that I was not going to make difficult judgments involving any human passions. Henry noted that there were 17 courtrooms. He started by taking up to 20 folk at a time, but never got above 100. In theory, if all the judges and attorneys were ready, and all were raring for a fight, they might get up to 340.
In reality, at the end of the game, Henry told us that there had been six judges who were ready. Five cases settled or bargained a plea and one was headed to trial.
I got a low number in the first military draft lottery, which meant I should be headed for Vietnam. I got a high one here. They don’t balance or equate. It might have been similar if you had the same option in the Army — one day or one trial (battle?), with an average trial three days start to finish.
In my experience with other trials in Boston, trials can last four or more days, assuming you have several civil servants on the jury. They get paid leave for trials. In addition, for any trial over three days, they get $50 additional from the court. They prefer long trials, while the rest of us chafe.
Another duplication of the tape and Henry was the long lecture about our wonderful one-day/one-trial system. To hear Associate Justice Stephen Neel tell it in his cameo lecture, things used to be very different. He’s pretty believable, with his chemistry professor demeanor and weeping gray mustache. He said that not only did women not have to/get to sit on juries here until 1948, but jury service was a month at a time for as many trials as they could squeeze in. Also in the early days, jurors had to sleep at the courthouse and be ready to make difficult judgments…
The gist is that we’re supposed to be grateful that we are likely to be in and out within three days. We’re also supposed to congratulate ourselves that congregated bodies had that magic effect of cowing attorneys and defendants alike. Our mere presence makes justice possible. Right.
One of my co-members of my church’s religious-education committee is a Superior Court judge. I’ll have to ask her if she buys into this mystical power of juror bodies.
As it was, by 1 p.m. we were headed for various locations to sweep up and nibble on the crumbs of our days. I’m off to Rhode Island for marriage-equality business on Friday. It’s another three years before I am another log on the fire of justice.
If I get summoned to West Roxbury District Court again, I’ll know what to expect. The main judge there churns ’em out. He has a reputation for browbeating the attorneys into settling. He doesn’t have time for dawdling. The three times I was assigned there, I was out in a flash. Plus, on the way home, Dogwood always has something nice on tap.