Wednesday, October 27, 2004

My Jury Duty is Over!--Part I

Well, after eight days (from jury selection to reaching a verdict), my participation in our great Legal System is over. This also means that my blog will return to normal (and there are a few entries in the pipeline) and I can now legally talk about the case I was involved in.

Here are my comments on the whole experience:

-I went for jury duty at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago. Downtown is a lot of fun. Everyday, we had a 90-minute lunch period, so I enjoyed going to the various stores and walking around. It also helped that the weather was pretty nice. I went to every major store on State Street (Marshall Field's, Borders, Sears, Old Navy). Also, they had Halloween activities going on in the Daley Center Plaza each day. Performances by a troupe known as the Midnight Circus were the main attraction. The Midnight Circus has a lot of the stuff you'd see in a regular circus (clowns, animals) but with a Halloween twist. In addition, the water in the fountain in the Daley Center Plaza was colored orange (it looked kinda like orange pop) and there were several different booths to buy food (from brats to fresh fruit and baked goods) and do other things (face painting, storytelling).

One thing I noticed when I walked around downtown is how there are a lot of things in such a small radius. I never walked more than a few blocks away from the Daley Center during my lunch periods, but I found that there were at least three McDonalds and three Walgreens within walking distance. Every other fast food place is also within walking distance.

-When I went for jury duty last Monday, I had to go to the Juror room on the 17th Floor, with the back of my summons filled out. I then gave my summons to the receptionist and received a panel number. I sat down and waited for instructions. Fortunately for me, the Daley Center only handles civil cases. The Circuit Court of Cook County works on a one day/one trial system. This means that if I wasn't picked for a jury by the end of the day, I'd get my check ($17.20 per day) and leave. However, if I wasn't picked, there was also the possibility that I could be recycled into the system and put onto a different panel later that day and still potentially serve. Before calling panel numbers, they showed us a 15-minute long video explaining the court process. It was hosted by Lester Holt (back when he was a Chicago news anchor). Then they started calling panel numbers. I went to the bathroom (where they have speakers so you wouldn't miss your panel number) and after I came out, they called my panel number.

We were asked to line up two by two and we followed the sheriff's deputy to a special set of elevators. The sheriff's deputy (who ended up being the deputy for the trial) was very nice and cracked jokes as we all looked unhappy to be there. We filed into the benches in the courtroom and waited for the jury selection process to begin.

-In jury selection, you are basically asked a lot of questions about yourself and your life. We were questioned in groups of four, with the judge asking us individual questions first. The judge asks the questions from the back of the summons in addition to questions relevant to the case. So, in addition to questions about marital status, job status, and whether or not I'd been a victim of a crime (or a party in a lawsuit), I got asked questions about my (and my family's experience) with hospitals. The last thing I was asked was if there was anything that could potentially affect my ability to be impartial. Given that this case was a medical malpractice case, I decided to mention that my uncle was a doctor who is part owner of a practice. This meant that me, the judge, the two lawyers, and the court reporter all had to leave the courtroom and go to the judge's chambers to discuss this issue. This was a common occurrence throughout the trial because the courtroom was too small to have a sidebar without jurors being able to hear everything.

In the judge's chambers, the two lawyers questioned me further and asked if I could be fair and impartial. Now, if I lied, I probably could've got out of it completely. However, I told the truth that I could be fair and impartial. So, after the discussion, both lawyers kept me as a juror. It was interesting to see who they struck, though. The potential jurors they struck included a man with dyslexia, a black woman who slept through most of the proceedings, a woman who noted in one of her answers that "the country needs tort reform," and a couple of people who had immediate family members (or spouses) who were in the medical profession.

-In total, it took a day and a half to get through jury selection. The jury ended up having 12 people and one alternate. The group of us easily became friendly and we laughed and joked a lot. The group was made up of five women and eight men. Three of the men (including myself) were black. Two of the jurors (one male, one female) were Italian-Americans. One juror (a male) was Latino. Everyone else was white. The ages and personalities of the jurors ran the gamut. The Italian male owned a company that dealt with international scrap steel. He also was an avid gambler who taught us the nuances of Blackjack and Three Card Stud Poker during breaks in the Jury Room. The Italian woman (who was half-Polish) talked a whole lot and her and the Italian man went tit-for-tat with their jokes and comments. The Latino guy was the youngest at only 19. One of the black men lived in Evanston. The other worked for American Airlines. It turned out that one of the white guys had, at one time, did the same job working for an airline. One of the women was a medical receptionist (they probably kept her because she wasn't a health care professional). Another one of the women did the crossword each day of the trial and asked us to help her with clues. One of the white guys worked for the FBI (!) and told me about what could be expected when applying for a job. Another worked for a company that owns and operates shopping malls (with an upcoming purchase, they will be one of the largest shopping mall owners in the country).

The court people also were interesting. I couldn't have asked to have a better judge than the one for this trial. He was an older white man who, we later found out, still had some left-side paralysis from a stroke. He was very nice (we got free lunch and a continental breakfast each day...something we later found out that not all judges do) and very laidback. When the defendant's cell phone went off during his testimony, the judge made a joke and kept going, although we all knew to make sure our cell phones were off after that. The court clerk was a short, heavy Italian guy who was very cool. Our deputy (for the first week) was a short black woman with glasses who joked around with us just as much as we jurors did amongst ourselves. It also turned out that she was related (by marriage) to one of the jurors. Our deputy changed on Monday (the one we had before was there because the deputy assigned to that courtroom was on vacation). She was a little more serious, and a little rougher, but a lot of fun as well. She was also a black woman.

The lawyers for the case were an example of contrast. The plaintiff's attorney was a tall,middle-aged, heavyset white woman with glasses and curly hair. She had an assistant, a skinny, older woman with a very deep voice. The plaintiff's attorney was one that had the tendency to repeat herself. She didn't just iterate points but hammered them into our heads. The defendant got annoyed several times as she asked him the same questions during her course of questioning. The defendant's attorney was a white man, late 30s to early 40s, with short, dark brown hair. He didn't have an assistant. He was one of those attorneys that gets to the point. Unlike the plaintiff's attorney (who had the tendency to sometimes cut off witness in the middle of answers), he let the witness finish each and every answer. Everything he did was concise and easy to follow.

-I mentioned that we got lunch and continental breakfast. The lunch came from a restaurant in the Daley Center. We got our choice of a sandwich OR a salad. The sandwiches were Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef, or Corned Beef on White, Wheat, Rye, or a Flour Tortilla. While, we had a choice of Caesars, Chef, or Pasta Salad.

-Now, about the case...

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