For my entire life, Republicans have been telling me government doesn’t work. It’s not true, government works just fine: taxes get collected, snow gets removed, communism gets toppled.
Government works, it’s just extremely inefficient. It’s bureaucratic. It’s unable to effectively deal with exceptions. It wastes time.
The waste of time is an unforgivable sin to most Americans. We believe that time is money. We believe our time is our own. We hate when somebody else wastes our time. When the state does it — at the DMV, or at the post office — we’re likely to blow a gasket.
Watching people’s faces in the jury room is like watching time itself being ripped away from people. And half of the people in here have the Liam Neeson face like they’re about to talk to the time thieves and say: “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
Does jury duty have to be like this?
The jury room can be broken down into three groups of people: skilled professionals, the unemployed or soon-to-be unemployed, and retirees.
The skilled professionals make every effort to take back their time. They are emailing, they are darting out to take conference calls, they are trying to write blog posts on their wife’s iPad. It’s a fight, but people with good jobs would rather be performing their duties than getting a “day off.”
Those with no duties to perform (or those who need to be physically present to work) just stare off into space. Like deer in headlights; they had a plan (they brought a book or something), but when confronted with the reality that a whole day would be wasted like this, they can’t execute. Who knows when the last time some of these people spent a whole day reading a book was anyway? They quickly lose interest and stare at nothing in particular, just waiting for a stimulus of any kind.
But you feel worse for the retirees, because they look like they are being forced to waste one of the last, precious days of their lives. I’m looking at one dude, maybe late sixties, and he keeps looking at the people in charge like he’s about to scream Mr. Orange-style: “I’m dying here! I’m f*****g dying here!”
But nobody cares, not about him, or us, or me. Especially not the attorneys. One of them saunters into the main jury room. Opposing counsel follows behind, looking like he’s being dragged in by his genitals. They talk to the administrator in charge. You know what’s happening… you can imagine the attorney with the better case saying, “You want to go to trial? ‘Cause I’m ready to go to trial. I’ll go to trial right now. I’ll go to trial all over your face!”
The attorney with the dog of a client nervously looks over to the jury room. He doesn’t want this. He can’t win. The clerk is picking juror names out of a box. “Hang on!” he loudly tells the clerk. He and the big swinging d*** attorney scurry out of the room, never to be seen again. Most likely a settlement has been reached.
While getting coffee, I overhear one of my fellow prospective jurors talking with two attorneys. The attorneys are trying to figure out whether they should start their proceeding today, or just wait until Monday. While I stand dumbfounded, this woman convinces them to wait until Monday (by which time our group’s service will be over). “Come on, it’s a beautiful day,” she says. “You’re not going to get anybody in there to concentrate on anything this week.” It works. The lady high-fives me.
And you wonder why the court docket is bursting at the seams.
Does it really have to be like this? For better or for worse, New York State has a captive audience of hundreds of people every day who are conscientious (or afraid) enough to at least show up to perform a civic responsibility. Is this really the best way we can think of to use that time? Why not show people a video about “how courts work”? Or at least show some Law & Order reruns to get everybody in the mood. Unemployed people are overrepresented in the jury pool (for obvious reasons) — maybe you could turn jury duty into a networking event? For the love of God, they could at least show a movie and give people lotto tickets so that jury duty is at least as entertaining as a Jitney bus ride to Atlantic City.
If I could switch jobs with New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman for a day, I’d turn jury duty into an American Idol style contest where the jurors had to vote off New York street performers every day. At the end of each group’s three days of service, we’d crown a winner. At the end of the year, the street performer with the most wins would get an apartment, a bath, and a scholarship to Juilliard. It’d be fun, and New Yorkers would look forward to a jury summons in the same way that those of us in the know really hope that one of these days we wind up in the Cash Cab.
Patience is not an American virtue, and you’d think that if anybody understood that, it would be the various branches of the American government. Telling people to show up and wait, or to show up and stand in line, or to show up and receive service that is slower moving than what you experience at Starbucks makes dealing with the government feel like a punishment. Why can’t government officials understand that this is bad?
Instead of trying to make jury duty something informative or at least fun for the potential jurors, in New York the only emphasis is getting the thing over with as soon as possible. Halfway through the second day, thanks in part to the efforts of the lady who got those guys to postpone their trial till Monday, we were told that we had fulfilled our service and would be freed from jury duty for another six years. The little proof of service form I got reads:
Thank you for your participation in this unique privilege we enjoy as citizens, and we hope that your experience was a rewarding one.
Bollocks. The state did nothing to make the experience enjoyable or rewarding. They just wasted everybody’s time. If I were king of the progressives, I’d want to make sure that people’s interactions with their government weren’t this sucky.