Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

My Day with the Feds

So today was the big day when I had to report for federal jury duty. Since this is apparently fairly unusual (according to the orientation, only about 1% of all names, selected randomly, are given to the federal courthouse in any given year), it seems worthy of a diary entry describing the day.

I started out the day slightly panicked about how long it was going to take to get there, having gotten a number of reports of traffic doom and destruction. For a couple of reasons, I decided to chance driving in, but started early -- early enough to head off the doom, as it happens. Leaving the house at 6:35, it only took about 40 minutes to get to the courthouse, which isn't bad at all. And meant that I arrived an hour early -- but of course, if I'd left ten minutes later, it probably would have taken twice as long to get in, so that's just as well. As it was, it meant that I could toast a leisurely bagel in the courthouse cafeteria.

The courthouse itself is quite nice, as big impersonal institutional buildings go, although it was apparently constructed on the ashes of Harborlights. (According to one of the fellows who I spent much of the day chatting with, a VC who has apparently crossed paths with my uncle Bob at DEC.) But it's a big sweeping building, with two square sides on the land side, but a gigantic curved glass wall facing the harbor side and a big atrium along that wall, so you get a lovely view of the harbor from all of the waiting areas. (So the whole thing is roughly the shape of a right triangle with a concave hypoteneuse made of glass.) The jurors have their own lounge, and a big briefing room with two screens and a glass wall that allows you to get the harbor view. The cafeteria is unremarkable but competent: I had baked salmon with wild rice for lunch, and quite to my surprise it didn't suck. (It's a very easy dish to ruin, especially when cooked in quantity.) And of course, more harbor views while you eat.

While not as bad as the local courts, there was still a lot of hurry up and wait. They let us check in at 8am, then paused a while. Then they showed us one of the usual trite "this is how a court works" movies, and then paused a while. Then came orientation and handing in the paperwork, and paused a while. Then they called the first group upstairs, and then paused a while. Finally, the second group (including me) got called upstairs to the courtroom.

The selection process was just plain bigger than anything I've seen at the local level. They had called in 105 people -- that was to fill one trial of 16 jurors. The reasons would become clear a bit later, but they explained that we should expect jury selection to take the entire day. I got the impression that, even by federal standards, this case was a big deal, involving a conspiracy of mail fraud, identity theft, and something involving HUD.

The judge packed nearly all of us (95 candidates) into the courtroom, and then began asking questions. Unlike in the little local trials, they assembly-lined the process. The judge asked a series of 17 questions, and requested that if your answer was "yes" to please stand up, so he could take your name down. Afterwards, they would process everyone through quickly and privately, and ask for elaborations on those answers.

The scale of the case was driven home by the "Do you know any of the witnesses?" question -- the prospective witness list ran something like five pages. I didn't keep track, but I'd guess there were 50-75 names on there, including a lot of placeholder slots for representatives of major financial and government institutions. Honestly, I have to wonder if the witness list was partly a tactic to intimidate the defendant: heaven knows I would be pretty nervous hearing it.

The big question was #3, though. The judge explained the schedule -- the case was going to take about a month: probably about three weeks of half days of trial, and then probably a week of full-time jury deliberation. (He was reasonably confident it would be over by Christmas, but maybe not by much.) So when he asked whether this was going to be a hardship, he wasn't terribly surprised that about half the room, including me, stood up. *I* was slightly surprised that several people stood up for the "Do you have a problem treating a policeman like a normal person?" question, although no one stood for the "Are you unable to treat a Hispanic person fairly?" one.

Then came the really long part: sitting in our places in the court room, while they called four people at a time into the back for their personal interviews. This continued through the morning and for an hour or two after lunch, by which time a sort of gallows humor had grown among the crowd, cheering the people who came out with little "get out of jury free" cards and commiserating with the ones who sat back down.

While ours was the only trial starting today, there were a number of others continuing, according to the courthouse schedule -- including the ConnectU vs. Facebook case, which I hadn't realized had progressed that far. This is a long-running dispute about the original intellectual property for Facebook, and might yet become important if ConnectU gets anywhere. (They claim essentially that Facebook stole their idea and maybe their code; Facebook, of course, says this is nonsense.)

Eventually my number came up (I was juror #82, so pretty close to the end), and I was ushered into the interview room. This was *packed* with people: besides the judge and stenographer, there was an army of lawyers from both sides -- probably fifteen people total listening to every word. I admitted to the judge that I wasn't sure that my situation qualified as "hardship", and was going to explain the work situation (this is *not* a good time for me to be away from the office a lot), but never actually got that far: when I told him that I had oral surgery scheduled for Dec. 6th, and a somewhat iffy wisdom tooth, he waved me out. He was quite good-natured about it, but I'll admit that I have mixed feelings. It really is a very bad time for me to be out for a month, but the Mason in me greatly dislikes feeling like I'm shirking my civic duty with excuses.

Anyway, I'm probably off the hook. I need to call again this Friday, which may tell me that I have to call again on Monday, which may tell me that I have to come in again on Tuesday. But the court clerk thought that was unlikely. So blessedly, Mr. "Oh So Not A Morning Person" doesn't have to do 6am again tomorrow...
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