Silently judging other people is one of my top ten favorite activities of all time, but I was still a bit nervous when I found out I'd been called for the very first time to the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building to serve my civic duty of jury service.
Well, yesterday I showed up, sat in that big jury pool room, and eventually got called to serve on a jury panel for a DUI case. I didn't make the final cut for the jury, but I did learn quite a bit during the day. Yes, I know you're yawning, but trust me, they were exciting things about Gloria Estefan and Molotov cocktails!
1. Gloria Estefan shows up every time she's summoned
One of the bailiffs was a chatty guy and somehow got on the subject of celebrities doing jury duty. Turns out quite a few famous faces have been summoned by the Miami-Dade judicial system. Apparently, Gloria Estefan has pulled jury duty twice in the past three years alone. Being the model citizen she is, she shows up ready to serve. She never makes it to the jury room though. She sits in a private room for a while before she's excused. As the bailiff put it, "It's hard to carry on a trial when every one is trying to get one of the juror's autographs." Of course, if Gloria Estefan doesn't think she's better than jury duty, why do you?
2. Someone at that courthouse really, really loves Sandra Bullock
To keep jurors preoccupied while they're awaiting selection to a panel they play movies in the pool room. Apparently, someone at the courthouse has a thing for Sandra Bullock. Back in July 2010, our food critic Lee Klein wrote about his experience at jury duty and mentioned they were playing The Blind Side. In November, The Miami Herald somehow let Fabiola Santiago churn out this about her jury duty service. Guess what was playing while she waited in the pool room? Yep, The Blind Side. Well, well, well, guess which movie I sat through yesterday? The Proposal. Yes, Sandra Bullock's other big semi-recent hit. Don't worry though, The Blind Side is still playing. It was just scheduled for later on in the afternoon after I had been called out of the room. That Sandy sure is a charmer, but the Miami-Dade jury room is patiently awaiting her next big flick.
3. Nothing is free
The state pays you $15 a day to do jury duty (eventually $30 if you spend more than three days on a trial), and that's only if you're not working at all full-time salaried position (your job is legally supposed to pay you for days missed due to jury duty). Of course, merely being in the building could end up costing you more than $15. Your transportation costs aren't reimbursed, and parking costs $5 a day. Unless you're keen on a communal water fountain there's no free grub either. Not even coffee from what we could tell. There is however a slightly overpriced cafeteria and an Au Bon Pain in the lobby.
4. You won't know anyone there, but you will by the end of the day
I've heard people quip that Miami is America's biggest small town. You seem to run into someone you know everywhere. In fact, despite the fact I had mentioned my upcoming jury service to a friend who, you know, did not in fact reply that he too had upcoming service, I could have sworn I saw him walking through the door in my half-asleep state during the beginning of my service. Despite the uncanny resemblance, I quickly realized that unlike the doppelganger my friend does not indeed have Pokeman and other video game imagery tattooed on his knuckles. In fact, I realized there was little chance I knew anyone here. Turns out though that forced captivity is a good social lubricant. As people wake up and get sick of sitting by themselves they sure do get chatty. Who knows, you might make a few new Facebook friends. (The guy on my jury panel with extra Heat season tickets sure did).
5. The court is really, really concerned about your self-esteem
I don't know how many times we were praised for actually showing up to do one of our basic civic duties (apparently a rather large proportion of Miamians don't), but just about everyone from the bailiff to the judge to the attorneys to the jury room personnel gave us a feel good pep talk on the subject. Conversely, multiple people through out the day also stressed to us that in the case that we get selected for a panel and don't make the final jury it's not because we're bad people or somehow not fit to serve on a jury (I think this was some reverse psychology to cheer up the people who got selected for multiple days of service). Plus, everyone walks away with a nifty certificate of appreciation, the adult equivalent of a participation ribbon.
6. Turns out everyone in Miami is somehow related to an attorney or a police officer
Apparently, there's some sort of line of thought that being related to an lawyer or a copper gets you out of serving on a jury, and surprise, surprise, a majority of the people serving on my panel pointed this out. "Oh, yeah, my husband's nephew's life partner is totally a police officer in Providence." People were scrapping for any relation. Some of them still got selected. Incidentally, however, my panel featured two actual lawyers and a law student. None of the three were selected.
7. I still don't know if being a journalist gets you out of serving on the actual jury.
I personally didn't bother searching for any long-lost lawyer relatives because I had heard that being a "journalist" (and I use the term lightly when referring to myself) was good enough to avoid serving on a jury. My colleague Tim Elfrink, more of a journalist in the traditional sense than I'll ever be, though served on an actual jury this year. The case I was selected for was a DUI case, something far from high profile (in and of itself anyway). Though, I have heard from multiple colleagues that the fact would at least come during the "voir dire" portion of jury selection, especially from the defense.
Oddly, the defense attorneys didn't mention it. In fact, unlike almost everyone else on the panel they didn't single me out for any questions. Turns out that while the defendant, Oscar Cairo, was on trial that day for a DUI he's facing separate charges of attempted murder for throwing a Molotov cocktail through someone's window over a $5 loan. The story made big headlines, and was briefly mentioned here on Riptide (I didn't write it, as I was busy working on the far more important story of Paulina Rubio's bizarre confrontation with Miami police that morning). I remember the story, but didn't put two and two together until I Googled his name long after I was excused from the jury. Is it possible the defense didn't want to risk the possibility I could have eventually remembered his other alleged crimes and decided I shouldn't be sitting on the jury? Perhaps.
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8. No one seems all that concerned that everyone has the Internet in their pocket.
Sure, we were told a few times not to use our cell phones to look up any information on the case once we were selected, but the point was far from driven home. In fact, the only restriction on cell phone use was while we were in the courtroom. We were in and out of it several times, but no one was actively checking to make sure we weren't using it to Google the defendant. In retrospect, I found that a little strange considering the guy's search results are filled with his alleged Molotov cocktail throwing past.
9. Hanging around the courthouse is better than reality TV.
While sitting outside our courtroom we were privy to a lot of other discussion about other cases. In one instance, a young guy who was facing jail time for misdemeanor theft was discussing the possibility of a plea deal with his lawyer out in the hall. Apparently, he had just spent two years in the clink and didn't want to go to Miami-Dade jail because "there's a lot of black people in Miami-Dade jail. I might as well just jump myself." At one point the guy, clad in neck tattoos, baggy cargos and and over-sized, almost dress-like white T-shirt told his lawyer that he was a "model citizen." His lawyer looked at him dumbfounded and just said, "Oh, come one." Later on he ended up being taking away by a bailiff. The lone black men on our panel leaned over to me and said, somewhat pleased, "He's going to jail. I heard that." It probably wasn't the only thing he had overheard the guy say.
10. It really isn't that much of a pain of the ass to serve jury duty.
Most people will end up getting dismissed. Even if you do get selected, most cases don't go on longer than a few days. Of course, if you don't show up you run the risk of getting hit with a bench warrant for contempt of court. Why risk it when you could end up learning a lot, finding a new found appreciation for Sandra Bullock, hearing celeb gossip, and getting tons of pep talks through out the day about how great you are for serving your civic duty?