When the jury duty notice came in the mail I never expected to be standing in the hall of the courthouse with other jurors waiting to be interviewed. Back then I thought I'd get out of it. But what do you know -- I didn't want to get out of it! I wanted to be picked.
      I thought back to the first day trying to figure out what changed my mind. It couldn't have been that first day, though I was certainly surprised to open the jury room door and see an auditorium-size room with at least sixty people sitting on folding chairs. Most were as inexperienced as me, but a few obvious old hands knew enough to bring reading material and needlepoint. Those of us new to the game just looked around and listened. I was hoping to speak to someone about what constituted a valid excuse to get out of serving when I overheard three people who thought they had valid excuses. One by one they went out the door to explain their reasons and one by one they returned to wait with the rest of us. I decided not to try my lame excuse.
      I sat there in limbo for a long time. The door finally opened and the court clerk announced that the judge would be with us soon to explain what jury service was all about. We waited again. Then he entered with the surety of someone who performed this routine often. The issue he spent a lot of time with was the meaning of the phrase "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." He knew that it was a difficult concept to grasp. And before we were dismissed the same clerk returned to write the details of our service on a blackboard. We had to call at a designated time everyday and we would be told then if we were required to come to the courthouse. The answer was almost always yes.
      After that it was back to waiting in the big jury room. Periodically the clerk would come in and read off some names on a list. It was during one of these visits that I noticed I had gone from hoping she wouldn't call my name to hoping that she would. I guess I was hooked.
      Each time she entered with her clipboard we all quieted down and listened carefully as she painstakingly grappled with some the strangest names I'd ever heard. However, she read mine with no difficulty.
      We semi-finalists were shown into a courtroom where the same judge reminded us again about the meaning of the phrase "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." It still wasn't that clear, but it wasn't going to get any clearer. "Any questions?" asked the judge with no real time to answer. No one moved a muscle, so he went on to the next issue which he stressed very carefully -- absolutely no contact with any of the participants in the trial. After that he motioned to the clerk to invite them in.
      All eyes watched the fashionably dressed young defendant and the two young lawyers enter and take their places. Then a thin woman came out of a side door with a basket. She withdrew a piece of paper from it and announced the name. A round grandmotherly woman rose and was directed to the first seat in the jury box. After swearing her in, the judge asked some preliminary questions concerning any past knowledge or involvement with the legal system. She knew very little.
      Then the two attorneys took turns. Neither one of these guys was over thirty and the lawyer for the defendant looked like Robby Benson's little brother. As the questioning unfolded I started to doubt that I would be selected even if I made it as far as the jury box. The lawyer for the defendant asked the sweet gray-haired woman what came to mind when he said the word "lawyer." She only hesitated a moment and said, "Hard working." My brain did a double take. That was hardly what came to my mind. The next question was intriguing. "Have you ever heard of Pia Zadora or Meshulam Riklis?" She looked at the D.A. like he was speaking a foreign language and finally said "No." This woman was selected and asked to move to a seat on the top row of the jury box.
      Judging from the questions asked we all could tell the case involved a traffic accident and the next name out of the basket was a driving instructor. The lawyers asked him a few questions just to follow procedure, but he obviously knew too much. He was quickly eliminated and free to go. Watching each new prospective juror the pattern became clearer. If you had too much knowledge or strong opinions you were eventually asked to step down.
      I was evaluating the ramifications of all this when I heard my name called. It was my turn to be transported to the Jury Zone. Now I was the focus of the court's scrutiny.
      The judge looked at some papers on his desk while he spoke to me. "It says here that you're a writer. What kind of things do you write?" "Mostly television," I answered feeling suddenly a bit shy. "Have you ever written anything that takes place in a courtroom?" I thought for a moment. "Yes, I have." The judge looked up. "Then I guess you're somewhat familiar with the procedure," he assumed, glancing around the courtroom. "No, I'm really not," I said honestly. "Then how did you write about it?" the judge and everyone else wanted to know. "I just made it up."
      Everyone in the room burst out laughing and the judge was still chuckling when he asked his next question. "Was it anything like this?" "Not very much," I answered cautiously. "How was it different?" he wanted to know. "Not nearly as boring I hope." A few people laughed, but the judge seemed especially tickled by my responses. That was when he decided to call a short break.
      Out in the hall with time to kill made me nervous. Whatever possessed me to quit smoking at a time like this! One rationalization after another crossed my mind, but the one I decided to go with was that I had to calm my nerves before I could go back into that courtroom. By the time I accepted that there was only ten minutes left. I flew out the doors toward my car to find the nearest cigarette machine. On the way I whizzed by the defendant and his attorney. They sensed my desperation, but remember: no contact. I couldn't explain. They watched me like witnesses to an escape. Their shocked expressions freeze frame in my mind.
      When I found a cigarette machine it took all my money and gave me nothing in return. There wasn't even time to complain to the manager. I got back to the courthouse winded and sweating with only a few minutes to spare. I rushed up to a stranger and bummed a cigarette. With great difficulty I took two puffs before we were ushered back into the courtroom. Full of adrenaline and nicotine I resumed my place in the hot seat.
      The judge reminded me that I was still under oath. I smiled faintly and nodded. "Do you know who Pia Zadora and Meshulam Riklis are?" I answered "Yes" to that. "Have you ever worked for Pia Zadora?" he inquired further. "No, I haven't" "Would you like to?" he said right on the heels of my last answer. Having just been reminded that I was under oath, I said, "No."
      The judge smiled and turned me over to the D.A., who of course asked me that dreaded question about what came to mind when he said the word "lawyer." "They defend people who are guilty and innocent," I said. "Well, sure, everyone's entitled to an attorney. Is that what you mean?" That wasn't what I meant. "What I mean is that the point is to win. If someone commits a crime, but there isn't enough evidence against him, the case is plea-bargained down to a lesser charge. That way the D.A. gets a conviction and the defendant serves little or no time."
      Somehow my answer made the D.A. forget his other questions, but the Robby Benson lookalike was ready for a confrontation. "Let me see if I've got this straight. You have something against lawyers because they want to win? Shouldn't we want to win?" It was hard to believe, but I had hurt his feelings. "First of all I didn't say I had anything against lawyers and of course you should want to win, but there are other things to consider." "Like what?" he said turning away smugly. "Like justice!"
      The judge tried unsuccessfully to stifle a snicker behind his hand. He and I both knew I wasn't long for this jury. A few light questions later I was excused. Before I left the courtroom the judge called out to me. "Thank you. Thank you very much for your candor." His eyes were still twinkling when I looked back and said, "Anytime."

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