BROWN'S CLOSE: Reporting for Duty
On an average day, I have little to no use for the public. Yet, during the first week of the new year, I was pulled into civic engagement in Anchorage.
I was called for jury duty on the first Monday of 2020. I had no personal experience with jury duty before, but my opinion had long since been formed by my dad who served on a jury for an assault case when I was in elementary school. The case involved brothers Harry, Larry, and Sam. Sam allegedly hit Harry in the back of the head with a two-by-four when Harry refused to make him a sandwich. Harry’s glasses fell off, and he went face first into the table.
Seeing his brother passed out with a large lump on his head, Sam felt duly remorseful.
“Why did you make me do that? Why did you make me do that?” he screamed.
At his trial, Sam did not contest his guilt. He did, however, continue to question Harry as to his motives.
Larry did not add much to the proceedings; he was drunk at the time.
My dad chuckled when he told the family about his jury experience at its close. I, however, was appalled that he had been forced to waste his time in this manner.
I grumpily informed my friend that I had been called for my own service.
My friend can best be described as an optimistic, effervescent, rose-colored glasses butterfly
“But you’ll get to do your civic duty! It will be so interesting!” she fluttered.
Nothing sounded less interesting to me than doing my civic duty.
Legally, however, I was forced to acquiesce. I showed up as requested at eight o’clock in the morning on January 6. My fellow jurors were folks much like myself; all looked uniformly peeved to be doing this and not all of the other activities we had each planned for eight o’clock on Monday morning. Most were wearing work clothes, and hang dog expressions. A few looked like students. The man sitting next to me was very old, unkempt, and did not appear to know where he was.
He flagged down one of the court staff immediately.
“Eh, eh,” he protested, waving his hand.
She looked around to see whether there was anything even remotely more pressing for her to do than deal with this man.
Seeing nothing –
“Alright, come this way,” she kindly ushered him into an office.
They were in there for several moments. Then he came back and waddled to his seat. Whatever his trouble was, it appeared that he was still not excused from jury duty.
The courthouse had very thoughtfully provided internet access in the jury room. My mood lifted somewhat; I could still fritter away the morning on Facebook.
“Good morning jurors!” one of the chipper clerks chirped over the microphone. “Thank you so much for serving here today!
“We have a very exciting morning lined up for you!” she continued with all the enthusiasm of a circus master.
A few of my fellow office drones spared her cursory grimaces before going back to their laptops.
I, however, was enthralled. What would it be like to have a captive audience of 200 people every day of the week? My stand-up comedy routine would be on point.
As indeed was hers.
She cracked wise about how our employers would most likely want to see documentation of our attendance, and highlighted how we all got free parking.
“So, when you leave, and go to the parking meter and it asks you to pay, you will of course giggle mischievously, as if you are getting away with something. Because you are! You don’t have to pay! You park for free!”
A few polite titters from the crowd. Most of my fellows appeared to wish they could currently be paying for parking somewhere else.
“And now, I am thrilled to introduce our next speaker!” the clerk moved seamlessly through her M.C. duties.
She hauled a judge to the front of the room.
He cleared his throat.
“I do hope you don’t feel like we are wasting your time,” he started.
We do. That’s exactly how we feel.
“Thank you for serving here today. Our tradition of American jurisprudence demands it. None of us could do our jobs without you. All of the lawyers are currently scurrying behind the scenes, making their cases airtight to be heard before you —”
He paused and heaved a sigh of reverence.
“— the jury.”
I looked around, impressed. No one had ever treated me with reverence before.
Apparently, my fellow jurors were all treated with reverence on a semi-regular basis. Many were blatantly ignoring the judge and scrolling through their phones.
“Now there is a saying, ‘Cases are settled on the courthouse steps,’” the judge continued. “You might not make it beyond this room, but you have still served a vital function in our democracy.”
He bowed, and handed the microphone back to our Master of Juror Ceremonies.
“Thank you for that riveting speech!” she gushed. “And indeed, he is right, we had two trials going today, and one of them has now settled; half of you were assigned to that trial, and are hereby excused. I will read the list of names now.”
The atmosphere in the jury room sharpened noticeably. It was the most engaged the audience had been all morning.
She began reading names alphabetically.
Those of us at the head of the alphabet by surname were excused, demonstrating the exact reason I will need to think long and hard about changing my last name if I ever get married.
I was released.
Jury Duty ended up being completely inconsequential; just as the clerk said, I really did feel like I was getting away with something. It was as if I needed to do penance.
My penalty presented itself sooner than expected. Unable to resist the pull of community, I attended the Anchorage Assembly’s Townhall at the Loussac Library later that week.
To the credit of the Assembly and Administration, they did start and end the meeting punctually. This good feeling, however, was undercut by the fact that the Assembly was proposing not one, but two alcohol taxes.
Those who felt compelled to rise for public comment were tax-friendly. They did not, however, adhere to the topics at hand. Rather, one attendee praised the proposed oil tax, which was not under the municipality’s purview. Another audience member called for a toll to be instituted on the Glenn Highway for visitors driving into Anchorage. This would mean the municipality would be taxing a state road, and I’m sure the rest of the state would have something to say about that.
Still a third audience member got up to speak at length about how we should all be taxed, only to abruptly conclude her remarks by saying she was opposed to the Assembly’s taxes.
There was a small group named “Project ‘20s” passing out stickers, and the head of the group took the microphone. She spoke at length about how she grew up in Alaska, how her parents grew up in Alaska, and how her child was growing up in Alaska, and yet, I still was not sure what Project ‘20s was about.
I checked my watch.
I’d been there for 77 minutes.
I was sitting in the middle of the last row of the auditorium. Rather than disturb half the row on my left, or the other half on my right, I stood up and climbed over the back of my chair in a frantic bid for freedom.
I tripped and stomped loudly to my feet.
Everyone in the row turned to look at me, now thoroughly disturbed.
So much for being considerate of others.
Against all odds, Sarah Brown is considering a career in public service. While she mulls over her decision, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.