I did my best to get excused from jury duty, but in the end, I met that day’s criteria—half-idiot or better, plus a pulse—and I was sworn in as a juror on a two-and-a-half-week trial.
The case: forklift driver vs. railroad vs. trucking company.
The skinny: the plaintiff was unloading a tractor trailer with her forklift. Either the brakes on the truck were broken or had never been set, and as a result, the force of the forklift braking inside the trailer caused the truck and trailer to roll forward, so that when the plaintiff backed out with her load, there was a gap between the dock and the trailer, and the 10,000-pound forklift fell to the ground with the driver in it. The forklift driver claimed the accident severely injured her back as well as instigated many years of depression. She hasn’t worked since the accident in 2008. Two years ago she moved to Arizona, where she got a medical marijuana prescription and took up aqua aerobics. The plaintiff sought $2.5 million in this case, and we awarded her just over $200,000.
What do a delayed flight, food poisoning and jury duty have in common? No amount of kicking and screaming will improve the situation. Come to terms with this fact quickly. No juror wants to be there, and everybody else in the room—the judge, the lawyers—they all know it. Also, each juror believes wholeheartedly that they are inconvenienced and burdened worse than any other. That game isn’t worth playing. Feel confident that your schedule is decidedly less flexible than the unemployed guy’s, but leave it at that.
The jerk, the loudmouth, the asshole who runs his mouth incessantly—yes, that dude, he’ll be there. He may even sidle up to you, smart, reasonable Playboy man. Beware of this guy. Mine pressed me in various ways until I, in front of all the jurors, begged him to stop talking. “Okay,” he said, “but one last thing. Don’t try and tell me Obama is black.” We weren’t even talking about Obama.
Well, maybe not every single one, but the proportion of hot to not seems high in this profession. That, and court reporters are swapped out every half-day, so it’s a revolving door of fresh faces and forms. Incidentally, our jury was 75 percent male, so whenever the court reporter would pick up her little steno machine and saunter into chambers for a sidebar, all of our heads would swivel like we were at Wimbledon.
At some point someone will testify, and what comes out of their mouth is 100 percent raw and undiluted bullshit. That bullshit will fill up the room like a fart in a car, and, Playboy man, it could cause you to start doubting the entire judicial process. Isn’t dude supposed to be under oath? That motherfucker is lying through his teeth! But have faith in your fellow jurors; they can smell the bullshit, too. Everyone can. That doesn’t make it any less pathetic a display, but when the jury deliberates, you’ll just throw that testimony out like last week’s dirty diaper.
Over the course of the trial, you’ll begin to understand that everything is for you. The whole show, it’s all for your benefit. You have the power, and when the jury finally deliberates, you decide who gets what and how much. People’s livelihoods are in your hands, Playboy man! Plus, you’re not allowed to speak or even look at lawyers or witnesses throughout the trial. When else are you encouraged not to hold the door for people? Not to nod hello if you find yourself next to a familiar face at the urinal? Hell, you could probably sprinkle a few drops on the defense attorney’s wingtips and saunter back into the courtroom with a brilliant confidence that nothing will come of it (at least, not until the trial is over).
Despite the large volume of content thrown at you, there’s a surprising amount of time sitting around doing nothing at all during the trial. In particular, when you’re in court and there’s an extended sidebar, you can’t get up, you can’t use your phone, you can’t read and you can’t talk to the other jurors. You can’t do shit, except maybe contemplate your daily juror paycheck ($17.20 in Cook County), consider whether your county-supplied turkey wrap was better or worse than the day before’s, whether you’ll order the turkey wrap again the next day (you probably will), and maybe wonder if the next court reporter’s outfit will include tights.
After the verdict has been read and court has been dismissed, the lawyers may chat up the jurors in an effort to gain insight into the case. After our trial, a handful of us jurors ended up speaking with the two railroad lawyers (who, incidentally, we found to have zero liability), and they invited us out for drinks. If you’re invited to do something like this, go ahead and do it. The lawyers bought us several rounds, and they were willing to share details of the case that had been left out of the trial. Plaintiff married a work supervisor who might’ve otherwise testified? One expert witness performed surgery on the opposing expert witness? Oh my!