July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

So I went in for jury duty recently. I feel like, as a citizen of this great country, it’s your duty to wait in a room for up to two days until they mispronounce your name so they can take you and a group of strangers to sit in a courtroom on hard benches on loan from Young Israel until they give you the opportunity to state a reason that you personally should get out of it.

Last week, I talked about how I went in and sat around waiting to be called. That took about a week, apparently.

And when we got to the courtroom, one of the first things the judge said, after congratulating us for not trying to get out of jury duty, was that this trial was expected to take about a month. And that’s when I started wondering if I should maybe try to get out of it. Yes, I have a responsibility, but I have a bigger responsibility to my family. I’m not going to quit my job so two people can figure out who was at fault in a minor fender bender they had three years ago. Oops, I wasn’t supposed to discuss the case.

But okay, without mentioning any names, which I’ve forgotten anyway, the plaintiff was claiming that he missed a month of work because of the accident.

“Thanks. We’re all missing work for this.”

But what I found is that to stay in jury duty, you have to be very determined to ignore all loopholes they keep throwing at you to get out of jury duty. You have to really want to be there.

For starters, I was there in the middle of March (not this year), and the judge said, “This case will take a full month—five days a week—except for Erev Pesach, which is Good Friday.”

(I’m paraphrasing.)

So I said, “Well, the day after Erev Pesach is Pesach. Can I be excused?”

Actually, I didn’t say that. I wasn’t sure if I could call out, or if I should raise my hand, or what. So I figured he’d eventually ask about it. He didn’t.

The first thing he asked was whether there was anyone who had recently planted a garden or built a house or married a wife. And people raised their hands.

Then the judge said, “I need to ask how many people would really put their parnassah in danger if they just didn’t show up for a month. But if too many people raise their hands, I’m going to have to go through all of you one at a time before letting you leave.”

So I didn’t raise my hand for that, even though I’m a freelance writer, with the term “freelance” being medieval English for, “If I don’t work, my family doesn’t eat.”

Then he had the court officer give out something called a “voir dire,” which was about 20 pages of questions, designed so that all your answers would make either one lawyer or the other nervous about you. If you didn’t want to make anyone nervous, you’d have to lie. For example, one of the questions was, “Have you ever witnessed a potential slip-and-fall case?”

Do you mean have I ever seen anyone fall down? No, not me. Everyone around me is a brain surgeon.

But at no point did he ask about Pesach. So when he finally got to calling people up individually, I figured, “Okay, he’ll eventually get to me.”

But even this process took forever. First they’d call someone up and have him sit in the jury box and answer three or four questions about himself. (What do you do for a living? What do you do in your free time? Where do you get your news from?) Then the judge would take him into a side room with both parties’ lawyers, while the rest of us had to sit there in total silence except for the squeaking of entire benches whenever anyone shifted. I was splitting my time between marking essays, scrawling funny thoughts on a clipboard and trying not to cough.

I was really hoping they’d get up to me:

Judge: “What do you do for a living?

Me: “I’m a teacher and a writer.”

Judge: “What do you do in your free time?”

Me: “Free time? I just gave you two professions!”

Judge: “Okay, where do you get your news from?”

Me: “The Jewish Link.”

Lawyer: “Your honor, I would like to move that he be excused for mental reasons.”

I’d also heard that being a teacher is sometimes a valid excuse, at least to get me pushed off until the summer so I could start this whole thing again. So I actually came prepared to prove that I’m a teacher.

Judge: “So why do you feel you need to leave?”

Me: “I’m a teacher with students who depend on me. And I can prove it. Here’s a pile of essays I’ve been marking.”

Judge: “Well, judging by the quality of these essays, I’m not sure you’re making a difference.”

Me (frustrated): “Well, who made you judge?”

Lawyer: “Actually, he is the judge.”

Me: “What are you, his lawyer?”

But before they could get to me, the judge called it a day. He then said, “Believe it or not, this is actually going pretty quickly.”

But at this point I’d already missed a day of school, I knew that I had three valid reasons to get out of jury duty, plus I’d definitely seen people fall on more than one occasion. There was no way I was going to come back the next day so I could sit for eight hours until I was selected in order to tell him why I shouldn’t have come in. So on the way out, I asked for permission to come up to the judge.

I’d also heard that people have been asked to leave jury duty because the lawyers decided they were too interested in the case, and that made them nervous. I wasn’t too interested, but I probably could’ve sold that excuse, even by accident, seeing as I was the only one in the room who’d spent the day taking notes on a clipboard. In red pen.

This isn’t the most efficient system. When I told the judge I couldn’t make it because of Pesach, he told me—without giving me time to say my other four excuses—that I was now patur from jury duty for another three years.

You’d think they’d ask, “So what days can you make? We have other trials.”

“Nice. Anything juicy?”

“Never mind. You seem too interested.”

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has seven books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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