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March 8, 2005 > A Juror Goes to Oakland

A Juror Goes to Oakland

by Venkat Raman

The Alameda County Courts really love me. I have always received jury summonses regularly and persistently. When I received two in the same week, I was amazed, perplexed and even worried as there was no possible way I could imagine responding to both. It turns out that the jury pool is drawn from voter registration and DMV data. If your name is not spelled the same, you have two identities as far as the courts are concerned! A quick call to the court clerk took care of one and but I still had to respond to the other.

I have heard from so many friends on how they received a jury summons and when they called in on the appointed day, their batch was excused and they could go on their merry way. Or, heaven forbid, they would have to go into the court and patiently go through the jury selection process and come away unscathed, I mean, not selected. There is yet another option to not serve on the jury - you could claim hardship and, if the judge agrees, you are home free. If all of these fail, and you do get called into the jury box for potential service, there is still another opportunity - you are hopefully disliked by one of the attorneys and they can excuse you. You see, the process is chock full of opportunities not to serve. And the beauty is that for this pain, you are excused for a whole year before you may need to go through this ritual again.

You must wonder what kind of curmudgeon I am that I am in such contempt of this noble civic duty and privilege all rolled into one. The fact is, the timing of my latest summons was very unfortunate in my personal life and made me dream of one of those escape possibilities. When the summons date showed Nov. 22, 2004, the Monday before Thanksgiving, my boss felt no one would want to start a trial the week of Thanksgiving, and so, in all likelihood, I wouldn't even have to go in. How wrong he was!

When I reported to the Jury Assembly Room in Oakland, my arrival was quickly registered and I was then seated for a long wait while I wondered if I would be assigned a case or be excused. Batch by batch potential jurors were shipped off to various courtrooms for selection. My name was not in those. When it was announced that a judge was going to come into the Jury Assembly Room to talk to the remaining people, I smelled trouble. Sure enough, the judge and the retinue of a number of people, who later turned out to be the lawyers and plaintiff and defendants of the case, filed in. This was going to be a long case, lasting about two months. This was a medical malpractice suit, with two plaintiffs and five defendants. My heart sank.

With a glimmer of hope, I filled out the hardship form, but to no avail. I had to be part of the jury selection process. We watched many a candidate being called into the box, questioned and excused. The general theme was that all these people had some nasty experience in their past with the medical profession that they could not be objective in their evaluation of the evidence. I dodged the bullet for a while but had to succumb in the end - my turn came to enter the jury box. I guess I couldn't make any lawyer dislike me; I was in.

To be continued next week.

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