Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Small town jury duty

Last week for the first time in my life I was summoned for jury duty.  We do not live in the same county as Abilene, so we report to the small town of Anson which has about 2300 people.  Our county is made up of several small towns which altogether total about 19,000 people.  I'm guessing at least 18,000 of these grew up in the area and have been here their entire lives.  So needless to say, when I showed up for jury duty yesterday morning, I think I was the only one there who didn't know somebody else.  It was funny to sit and watch all the farmers talk about their cotton and all the school teachers gossip about their students.  I just sat there reading Consumer Reports.
I think there must have been around 75 of us show up.  I have no idea if this is a typical jury duty crowd or not, but it was bigger than I expected.  Our judge was Judge Hagler- great name if you ask me!  After the disqualifications and exemptions, there were still 60 of us left.  Then came a 45 minute recess.  What do you do in a small town for 45 minutes?  You walk the streets and try to find any open shop.  Of course the only thing open was an antique store, so that's where I spent my break.  As I was leaving, I was grilled by the super friendly store owner about my origins since I was obviously not from around here.  Back in the courtroom I became juror #41.  For those of you who don't know, a jury consists of 12 people and each lawyer can throw out up to 10 jurors, so the first 32 people are really in the hot seat.   At that point, I knew I would not get picked unless one of the lawyers called for a shuffle. 
Hagler explained that the case was about a lady who shot her husband in the leg and was pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon- 2nd degree felony.  The jury selected would spend about 3 days deciding her sentence.  The prosecuting lawyer then began asking all the fun questions that make people admit to all kinds of things in a room full of complete strangers.  I found it amusing.  This went on for about 2 hours.  Of course given our county size, just about everyone in the room knew at least one witness, expert, or lawyer involved in the case.  Somehow nobody knew the husband or his shooter wife, but they did live in the neighborhood or know their children.  The only thing I got to admit to was being shot at in NM when I was a teenager (a story for another day).  By this time it was noon.  They gave us an hour and 15 minutes for lunch.  I had a sandwich with me, so after my 10 minute lunch, I was off to find something else to do in Anson.
The interesting furniture/bead store (yes, like jewelry beads) was closed even though the sign said open 10am-6pm, so I kept walking.  I eventually came across the town library.  Having worked in a library part-time in WA, I now find it interesting to visit small town libraries.  Upon entering, I was immediately greeted not with a friendly TX "good afternoon, how can I help you?" but with a suspicious, stern "what can I do for you?"   I mentioned that I was merely looking around, so the older librarian retreated to her glass room where she continued to stare me down for the rest of my visit.  There were some interesting old newspapers and local pictures in the library, but I was pretty much done in 5 minutes.  I found it funny that about 1/2 of the call number labels were handwritten.  As I left, I waved and said thank you, but the unfriendly librarian had no response.  I think she was happy to see me go.
With more than 45 minutes left, I finally found the antique MALL!  It was more like just a big store, but it occupied the rest of my time.  As I wandered around, I could hear the elderly store owners discuss teeth pulling, dentures, cold weather (40 degrees), you know- typical old people talk.  It made me smile.  As I came around the last corner of the store, the only lady who hadn't gone to lunch began to ask me questions.  It was so obvious that I did not belong in this town and everyone seemed fascinated to have such a visitor.  As I walked back to the courthouse, I wondered if we would be like this in 30 or 40 years.
I forgot to mention any details about the courtroom.  The courthouse was built in 1910 and has such great  character.  I am always cold and always assume that public buildings will be freezing, so I decided to wear long johns yesterday so that I wouldn't have to keep up with a jacket or sit shivering for hours on end.  Well, according to Hagler, this building has a mind of its own where temperature is concerned.  On this particular day, the courtroom was about 80 degrees.  I was nice and toasty in my long johns, but everyone else was sweating and some even went home during breaks to change clothes.  Nice.
Back in the 80 degree courtroom again, the defendant's lawyer began his questioning.  About 1/2 of the ladies had to admit to being beaten by fathers, boyfriends, husbands, etc.  It was so uncomfortable having to listen to complete strangers reveal personal issues so publicly.  Then, you guessed it, another recess.  This one only 30 minutes long.  I was done with antique stores, so I sat in my car drinking Dr. Pepper and reading a magazine instead. Next came the climax of the day: announcing of the jury.  After the 12 took their seats, another 15 people remained in front of me.  I shook Hagler's hand, was thanked for my service, and left with $6 in my pocket. 
All in all, not a bad day.  Hagler was funny and kept things lighthearted.  I learned a lot about the jury selection process, learned too much about people I don't know, and learned that I have a lot of small town folk to acquaint myself with in the years to come. 

6 comments:

Kristi said...

Ha! My friend Kelly lives next door (well, as "next door" as you can in the country) to the couple--I remember her telling me about the commotion when the shooting happened. Sounds like an interesting day--I wonder what the librarian's problem was? Did she think you were some young hoodlum coming to steal library books?! I mean, you do have that look!

Shelly said...

My favorite 'dismissal' from the jury pool I was in a few years back was a man who was asked if he had any problems with policemen. He responded by saying "well, I just got out of jail yesterday and I have a little resentment left." Everyone cracked up!

Alyson said...

It seems like you'd be a prime jury person since you don't know everyone and their brother and you haven't been beaten (at least from the defense's point of view). Maybe the prosecution dismissed you.

I'm not surprised the librarian was unfriendly to you. You've always looked like a book-stealer to me! :)

Amber said...

Yep, a book stealer- that's me! I don't even like to read!
Alyson, I don't think I was dismissed by either side. They just never got to my number before they had 12 jurors.

Andrea Casey said...

What a crazy day! That's too bad you didn't get the warm, friendly Texas welcome fuzzies... :|

Sharron said...

Hahahaha, welcome to my world, or at least the one I used to work in. Either makes you appreciate or hate the justice system. Yeah, $6 is about the average daily wage in Texas' court juries. Glad we don't have to do that very often.