by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
December 31, 2003
SEATTLE, Wash. -- It's not that I'm ignoring the holidays. Far from it. If it were not for the proximity of Christmas, the prospect of being cooped up as a juror during a long trial with 11 other peers of the accused would not have terrified me so.
But that ordeal is over. I am off. Released. As in free! Never have I been so thrilled to hear my name announced over a PA system. Eventually, I am told, sleep will become normal again and I will not wake up screaming, "I did it, Your Honor! Take me and let him go!"
Here are some recollections of this time:
The official summons to jury duty arrives with a Juror tag (with bar code), a bus ticket, and a brief summary of the terrible things that might befall you if you fail to respond.
The bus trip did not bother me, for I not only take the bus from time to time but also put my bike on the front rack and go anywhere for a quarter (with my geezer pass).
No, it was the prospect of going into downtown Seattle, which I frequent about as often as I go to, say, Trenton.
I managed to locate the King County Court House, and was allowed inside after I had convinced a platoon of security people that I had not swallowed a box cutter with my Cheerios. Once in, I went to the 7th floor to find all the doors locked: I was the first (of some two hundred) to arrive.
Take my advice. If called to jury duty, be the first. Show up a day early. I am convinced that it is my perceived eagerness - very suspicious! - that got me off.
But for two of the weirdest days I have ever spent, I was the property of the court system of King County.
To begin with, it consisted of just sitting in a large room with scores of other citizens. Everyone had brought something to do - knitting, reading, or, my own peculiar form of tranquillizer, crossword puzzles.
The bank of television screens would occasionally come alive with some announcement. Raymond Burr, with numerous references to Seattle and environs, the names of which he got more or less right, narrated a history of the jury system.
I made the acquaintance of a man of about my age, a native of the Northwest, who was on his second stint of jury duty. The first time, just as he was ready to go to trial, the parties settled. "Happens all the time," he said. I breathed again.
Suddenly, the PA came alive. The following could go home for the day! I was one of them! One warning, however: be back good and early tomorrow, for the sentencing of the Green River Killer in our building would be a media circus.
Next day, the security people were so nervous they threatened to remove my box cutter surgically, but relented when they found that they, like all of us, were on camera.
For me the shock of that morning was to find that one woman (who did not knit, read, or work crosswords) had left a jigsaw puzzle half completed on a table. A note pleading that it not be broken up had been honored. When she showed up, everyone gathered to congratulate her. She turned out to be a bus driver.
The second shock was being released for good from jury duty. My glee was immediately poisoned by wondering how I had been found unworthy. But... May the joy that I felt then be yours for all of the year ahead! Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.