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Judge not

Original post made by Dolores Ciardelli, editor of Danville Express, on Mar 22, 2009

March 9 seemed far away when I extended my jury duty for six months last summer, but soon I had a new summons.

"Failure to respond to this summons," read the form, "will subject you to a fine, a jail term, or both." Hey, no need to threaten. Talk about starting off on a negative note.

As in the past when summoned, I was instructed to telephone Friday afternoon to get instructions. Not as in the past, I was instructed to report at 8:30 a.m. to the A.F. Bray Courts Building in Martinez.

A long line of would-be-jurors waited in front of the courthouse in the cold as each person went through the metal detectors, purses, bags and belts on the conveyor belt please. Then we proceeded to the cavernous jury room, where an even longer line snaked up to the counter. But here it was warm. At the counter we were given official "juror" badges and paperwork to fill out.

Finally we were assembled to receive our instructions. But first we were addressed by a woman from Main Street Martinez who invited us to please explore the historic downtown while we were there. We were given coupons for restaurants and free admission to the museum. What marketing! Perhaps Danville should lobby to get a courthouse in its downtown; it could replace the vacant Danville Hotel Restaurant building. What business it would bring. Of course all the business might not be welcome: I've never seen so many bail bonds services.

Next a clerk gave us our jury instructions. She told us she hoped to have some news for us by 11:30, which was about two hours away. We could eat in the jury room, and could get 15-minute passes to go out to buy something, move our cars or whatever. We were to keep our badges on so people would know why we were in the courthouse. Then she showed a 15-minute video on what would happen if we were chosen to be interviewed for a jury. Don't talk to anyone about the trial, it instructed, and inform the clerk if anyone approached us outside the court to talk about the case. Scary! Suddenly I was sure I would be called on to pass judgment on a member of the mafia. Could I resist bribes of millions of dollars? Yes! Or threats of disfigurement or death? No!

I walked around to get the lay of the land. There was a television, which thank goodness no one turned on. Most people read books or magazines; some simply stared into space. As the time passed, more fell asleep. A couple of older gentlemen had such an animated conversation about fishing that I began to ponder stopping on the way home to buy salmon for dinner. Two walls were lined with counters and plugs, making it convenient for computer use, and there was a free telephone. Wireless Internet was available through AT&T. It wasn't a bad place to spend a few hours - if only I'd been sure it would only be a few hours. I got quite a bit of work done.

Shortly after 11:30 the clerk read out the 70 names of those who might be chosen to serve; they could take a break but had to return by 1:45 p.m. The rest could go home. As she read more and more of the randomly chosen names, I began to feel lucky. Then "Dolores." She hesitated over the last name so I waited. I wasn't going to do any prompting. But it was indeed my name. So I wandered downtown to peruse the little mecca of antique shops, eateries and bail bonds services, and had lunch at a café that did mainly takeout. As I ate, I watched people who all seemed to know each other as they placed their orders. Two were judges; I'd obviously chosen a classy cafe for my BLT.

Back at 1:45 we were told they were still trying to get everything in order for a case to be heard. Then an hour later, a judge in flowing robes strode to the front of the room to announce the case would not come together today and we were all dismissed. Thank you for coming to do our duty, he said, and they would have a new group of "victims" the next day.


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