Home > Star Trek > I, not quite the jury

I, not quite the jury

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I got a summons for jury duty while I was busy writing Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath, so I managed to get it postponed for a couple of months — meaning until last Monday.

I went in hoping it would go like my first jury service nearly a decade ago, which I actually kind of enjoyed. That time, I was only called in for Monday to Wednesday the first week and just Wednesday the second week, and the one time I got called up for a trial, it was right before lunch and the parties settled during the break, so I never actually got inside a courtroom. (This is apparently very common — often, just the threat of a jury trial is enough to get someone to settle or plead out, so just being on call in the jury pool is all we need to do.) The rest of the time, I just sat around in the jurors’ lounge waiting to be called if needed. I was literally paid just to show up. And I was working on a rewrite of Only Superhuman at the time, so getting to spend a few hours a day in a quiet study lounge with a workspace for my laptop was perfect for my needs. That time, I found the experience so positive that I occasionally wondered if I could volunteer for another tour rather than having to wait to be summoned.

But this time was different. Given all the stress and anxiety I’ve been dealing with this past year thanks to my financial woes, I didn’t know how well I’d cope emotionally if I got assigned to be a juror on any kind of a serious or challenging case. Also, in recent years I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the racial injustice, police violence, and political corruption in America’s institutions, so I have less faith in the justice system than I used to. So this time around, I was very nervous about the whole thing. I spent the whole time on edge, afraid of having my name called.

It didn’t help that the daily stipend for being a juror is still exactly the same amount that it was nearly 10 years ago. I’d expected it to have increased by now. And I made the mistake of driving there on my first day, and I didn’t realize that my preferred downtown garage had raised its rates, so that parking alone ate up nearly 1/3 of my first day’s stipend. (The validated parking lots near the courthouse would’ve cost just as much, as it turned out.) I took the bus down after that, which meant walking several blocks in frigid weather.

Anyway, my first week did turn out to be uncannily similar to my first week 9 1/2 years ago. I showed up Monday morning and got the whole orientation speech, but I wasn’t called for a jury until Wednesday just before lunch (I got a hot dog from the courthouse convenience store, and it was pretty bad), and when I got back, we were kept waiting for more than an additional hour; then it finally turned out that the defendant had taken a plea, and since we’d been kept so late, we were released for the rest of the week. I was quite relieved that things had played out so much like they did the first time. (Oh, and we got free donuts Wednesday morning.)

The main difference is that I didn’t have a work in progress to rewrite this time. I’m between projects and was trying to come up with a plot idea for my next story, something I was able to do on Tuesday and Wednesday while riding the bus and walking the courthouse halls for exercise. (If you sign out for your 15-minute break and write “Walking” on the form, they cut you some slack if it takes longer than that to complete a mile, which is 7 laps around the corridors on the jurors’ floor.) Otherwise, I used the time to read the latest Analog issue, the one containing my story “Hubstitute Creatures.” I got it a couple of weeks ago, but I saved it for jury duty. There are some impressive stories in this one; I particularly liked “Pandora’s Pantry” by Stephen L. Burns, a robot-chef story that went in an unexpected and very satisfying direction, and “Learning the Ropes” by Tom Jolly, a story of interplanetary intrigue and tether propulsion in a setting that could almost be part of the historical backstory of Only Superhuman. I finished the magazine in my first week, and on Wednesday after I was released, I went over to the downtown library and picked up some books so I’d have something to read over the weekend and on week 2. One was a collection of Will Elder-illustrated comics stories from EC Comics’s 1950s SF, horror, and humor anthologies; most of them weren’t great, but there were a couple of Ray Bradbury adaptations and a couple of impressive tales that were almost Twilight Zone-worthy. And some of the parody stories were nostalgic for me, since I remembered reading them in my father’s pile of old humor comics back in the day.

So anyway, I was hopeful that week 2 would recapitulate my first time as closely as week 1 did. And I did get Monday and Tuesday off, which was good, because over the weekend, I came down with a bug of some kind — the inevitable result of having spent three days surrounded by dozens of people in public places in winter. If the pattern had continued to match the first time, I’d be called in on Wednesday and that would be it. But of course, there was still the chance that I’d be called to another jury and all bets would be off.

So imagine my surprise and relief when I checked the website Tuesday afternoon and it said that, for jurors of my group number who’d started on November 26, “your service is now complete.” I wasn’t needed back again at all! I guess it must be a slow week for crime and lawsuits. Maybe it’s the weather. But I’m glad I didn’t have to lug myself to the bus stop while I was sick. And now I’ve done jury service twice in my life and have yet to see the inside of a courtroom.

Of course, I wouldn’t have minded making more than three days’ worth of money from this (especially since parking and bus fare ate up so much of it already), but another day or two wouldn’t have made much difference. Fortunately, my manuscript for The Captain’s Oath has now been approved, so I should be getting my final advance from that pretty soon. And now I have about a week and a half until the copyedits for that are due in, which I hope will be enough time to write that new short story I plotted last week. It’s for an open-call anthology whose submission deadline is the end of the month, so I’m cutting it pretty close. But at least I’m free to focus on it now.

So that’s my jury-duty story. Maybe you were hoping for something more exciting, but I’m quite glad it turned out to be so uneventful.

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  1. David Powell
    December 5, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing, sir. I’ve done the same process a couple of times and did see the inside of a courtroom. Let’s just say it wasn’t nearly as exciting as Law & Order might lead one to believe. My case was two people who got into a fight poolside in an apartment complex. That didn’t do much for my faith in humanity, either.

    Looking forward to The Captain’s Oath! T-174 days and counting, and here’s hoping to see you at Shore Leave!

  2. December 30, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Season’s greetings, Christopher! While reading your accounts of jury duty I was reminded of the couple of times I got called for that particular assignment: first time, in New York,I was immediately disqualified because anyone involved in law enforcement was ineligible and at the time I was serving as an auxiliary police officer with the NYPD (which I enjoyed tremendously). Later, while working in Los Angeles, I was summoned for jury duty and got assigned a case, and the other eleven jurors picked me as the foreperson—I felt just like a zookeeper, trying to maintain order! Fortunately it didn’t take long—just one day, it was a misdemeanor traffic thing and the defendant pled guilty, thus savings all of us headaches. So I can sympathize with you. Also, I’m looking forward to Shore Leave 41 in 2019—I’ve been working on a presentation concerning one of my very favorite aspects of Star Trek, an investigation of the unusual mental abilities and powers of the Vulcan species, and if you’ll be at the convention I invite you to join me on the panel. Should prove interesting—let’s keep each other informed. Take care, and (in Vulcan) “Kunli uzh tevun” (Happy new year!) (signed) Zita Carno, alias T’Merla for the occasion

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