Sunday, December 01, 2019

Grand Jury Duty: Seeing No Hands and Hearing No Voices

I spent the month of November in purgatory, i.e., grand jury duty in Kew Gardens, Queens. A Google search on the word, purgatory: “a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.” At various times in my life – shortly after 9/11, hernia surgery, enduring various deaths of people close to me – I was made to understand that simply walking around freely, sane, and in good health, represented some form of heaven. We’re usually too dumb to understand this. Grand jury duty did a nice job of reinforcing this for me.

I had no idea what to expect going into this, so let this serve as a guide to any poor souls who go forth and find themselves ensnared in this unfortunate circumstance. Having a guide like this would have helped me!

In mid-July, I received a notice in the mail instructing me to report to grand jury duty at the Queens County Courthouse in Kew Gardens on August 5, 2019. This implied an entire month of service, 20 working days. My story really begins on January 28, 2019 when I was “laid off” from my job at the bank. I put that in quotes because there’s a long, convoluted, deeply screwed-up story as to how that happened. This was part of a bank-wide “10% of staff” layoff for no other reason than the bank had a terrible 2018 fourth quarter. This is the regrettable, shameful sort of thing corporate America does now to please shareholders. Suffice to say, when I walked around informing colleagues that this had happened, I was met with shock and disbelief. But really, the past few years, we had all witnessed very good to essential coworkers getting shafted the same way in near-annual mergers and periodic layoffs.

Almost immediately, I was asked to sign a two-month extension agreement to help my department “move on” without me, i.e., giving me time to write up my job duties (a roughly 120-page PDF document that accurately detailed a vast majority of “what I do”) and eventually train a colleague to do the essential, daily routines. One extension wasn’t enough. They asked me to sign another. Then another. Then another. By mid-July, I had signed my fourth extension agreement that would take me up through the end of September.

That’s important to note, because if I was a prick, I could have not said a word about this grand jury duty notice and, with signed extension agreement in hand, forced the Bank to pay me for being out of office for the month of August. In retrospect, I should have done this! But that’s not my style. I let the bank know, I had just received the notice and was allowed to reschedule once. When I did on the Queens County website, I was given a date in mid-October.

End of September rolled around, I left the job I had been at 13 years. (The bank claimed I had been there four, as I worked many years on contract. They short-sheeted the severance accordingly … see previous musings on corporate America.) It felt pretty good to leave a place that had constant upheavals and no recognition of my worth. The day before I was set to attend grand jury duty, I phoned up the court to make sure that this was happening. It seemed odd to me because my first day would be a Friday. It was lucky I called. The guy in the jury-duty office informed me that I had been misinformed, that grand jury duty was a monthly rotation, and the next one would start on November 4th. I heaved a sigh of relief. That book you see advertised on the upper-right of this website?  Those two weeks gave me enough time to do all the last-minute things one needs to do to put a book out.

Eventually, the first Monday in November rolled around. I thought it would be hard to get to Kew Gardens. I found I could get there in just under an hour: walk 1.25 miles down to the Steinway Street R/M station (in lieu of taking the clunky Steinway Street bus that always runs late), take the R/M Train four stops to the Jackson Heights stop, get off there and catch an express E or F Train that arrived in Kew Gardens in 2/3 quick stops. I had been to the courthouse once before and knew where to go once I got above ground, even knew I had to be near the front of the train to avoid crossing major roadways with long traffic lights.

When I got there around 8:45, there was a huge line of people snaking from the side entrance of the courthouse where jurists reported. I had forgotten that there was a bizarre tourist attraction right next to the jury entrance: an old “Redbird” subway car.  You couldn’t go in. But you could walk up a wooden plank, gaze around and read the informative plaques. Having rode in those cars thousands of times, it made no sense to me. For one, if it had been realistic, this relic would have been bombed with graffiti, even the windows, and had McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts junk scattered around the floor, along with plastic water bottles and aluminum soda cans. Maybe some unidentifiable brown streaks on the corner seats where the homeless often slept. There were no tourists in this part of Queens, and I was never sure why that subway car was there!

I knew the courthouse drill: the long line was due to the metal detector, the most irritating part of this whole process. I underlined in this previous post how deeply offended I was to pass through these things. Presumably, I cannot be a jurist with a felony crime on my record. What felony requiring a metal weapon would I then want to commit in a courthouse filled with armed guards?  But never mind – you grasp how much I hate this horseshit.

(After my first day of service, I got on Amazon and ordered a military-style belt with a hard-plastic buckle. Why? Twice a day, people wearing belts with metal buckles had to take them off at the metal detector. That’s a minor irritant for one day, and something I wasn’t going to tolerate for a month.)

When I got inside, a female guard who had the exact look and personality of Tank Girl (as played by Lori Petty in the 1995 movie) made us file in to take up each empty seat as we arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were all potential grand jurists, i.e., not a mix of different types of jurists. They would filter into this room throughout the month – most of them daily criminal court jurists. By our second week, those daily jurists seemed like elementary school kids in terms of navigating the courthouse.

At 9:45 when we were all assembled, a very loud, serious middle-aged white woman addressed us, laying down the rules. Some people didn’t understand we were there for a month and left out gasps. She was a no-nonsense hard ass who told us no excuses unless they’re in writing. She wasn’t as bad as R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, but she was firmly in line with that rigid courthouse vibe we all found vaguely nauseating. She then started reading out our names and asked us to form a line and approach the front desk (now manned by a handful of staff, not in uniform) and let them know if we had any issues with our service.

I don’t know how it happened, but a lot of people walked out of the room after this process. My interview was curt, with a nice older man who asked me if there was any reason I couldn’t serve. Sure, there was. I had spent every Thanksgiving of my life back in Pennsylvania with family and friends. I could not do this with jury service going through the end of the month. I didn’t even try to pitch a sob story as I had nothing in writing. As I wasn’t working, I was a perfect candidate. (This meant $40/day, roughly $800 for the month, payable 4-6 weeks after service, although I gather this will be taxed.)

Dozens of people got out that door, although many of them were sternly warned that they would be notified to serve again in May 2020 or face serious charges if they failed to show. Most of them appeared to have a very hard time with English. Some were old and infirmed; they appeared to get a completely free pass. Some tried to pitch their personal stories with no luck. One woman wept openly. Some claimed their employers wouldn’t pay them. This bellicose woman then informed them, call your employers right now and tell them I want to speak with them. Most of those folks ended up staying. (It’s against New York state law not to pay employees on jury duty of any sort, even for a month.) In summary, if you want to get out of grand jury duty, you need to get something in writing beforehand and be ready to pass this gauntlet.

About a third of the people who came through the door left. The rest of us were instructed to follow the head court guard, this elderly black man who seemed like a nice guy but also a bit flaky, to follow him across the street to the criminal courthouse to be sworn in. There were just under 100 of us, walking behind this guy as if we were school kids on a field trip.

We got into the courthouse, which seemed much more “on guard” then the jurist entrance in the other building and went into a large, mahogany-wood court room where a very bored judge swore us in. It was also here where we were split into four parts of 23 jurists, A through D, and these would be the grand juries for November 2019. When we were all assigned, the judge then picked out names at random for each group to serve as foreman (with a substitute) for each part. I heaved a sigh of relief when my name wasn’t read, as I normally get nailed for senseless shit like this.

(Later that morning, a secretary and substitute would be assigned based on volunteers, which two people in our group did. As it turned out being foreman and secretary were not at all stressful and rote routines by the second week. The foreman simply swore in witnesses and later read the charges for our votes; the secretary kept track of our attendance and noted the votes in a ledger.)

At each step, we were informed of how wonderful we were, good citizens doing our duty. Conversely, we were occasionally treated like assholes by the staff, especially at the entrance. But what else is new.  We were also given a handbook that covered everything about the process. This along with the paper badge that was torn from our notices identified us as grand jurists.

After the assignments, we all filed out. Parts A and B were to go back to the original building to serve, while C and D would remain in the criminal court building. I was in Part A. This was a minor stroke of luck as the C and D people were relegated to the much stricter, high-volume building, with the general public using the same main entrance. They also had to vacate their court room after each session, which meant picking up their stuff and moving to another room four to eight times a day.

We filed back to our building, this time going upstairs instead of into that main jury bullpen room we had been in. We were guided to a small, non-descript room, painted off white, with a bunch of padded wood chairs and small judge and witness stands at the front. It felt like a break room, and I assumed we would sit there until being moved to a much more grand, traditional court room.

Wrong. That was the grand jury room, where we would spend the month. There was nothing wrong with it; it just seemed so … undramatic. I had seen grand juries portrayed on TV: cool lighting, hushed tones, plush leather seats, dark-wooded court rooms, large windows. This felt more like the rubber room in high school, where the bad kids went when they were suspended.

The female guard who walked us over turned out to be our jury guard, a brassy black woman named Brenda. The first week, she wore an imposing pair of terminator shades that we assumed were part of her no-BS courthouse psyche. She later stopped wearing them and informed us she had an eye infection that required the sunglasses. She had a strange job. Part of it was setting us up so we could function as a grand jury, which took about half an hour on the first day. She was also a janitor in terms of keeping the water cooler, small refrigerator and microwave in order, along with the men’s and women’s restrooms off to the side. She threatened physical violence to anyone who flushed the harder hand-crank paper down the toilet as that would create a jam and make her life hell.

Most of her time was spent out in her smaller bullpen, waiting for Assistant District Attorneys to show up and present the jury with a case. Her main job was to schedule a steady flow of cases and not overwhelm us with one case on top of another. (She may have had a lot of other ancillary duties that we’d never know because we weren’t allowed to go out there, save for entering and leaving.) The bullpen was a small rectangular area with her desk, some benches, a small, waist-level door that opened into her bullpen (with another door leading to our enclosed jury room). She was busy in the morning and afternoon, and during the long lunches appeared to be watching Netflix on her laptop. Keep in mind, like any court guard, she was a police officer: gun in holster on her belt, bullet-proof vest, handcuffs, etc. While she enjoyed bantering with us … I found it hard to joke around with someone carrying a gun for any reason. No offense to her. She did everything in her power to keep things loose.

We were at the front of the upstairs hall, and Part B was just down the hall. We never saw them, save for lunch breaks when we were allowed to use the big jurist bullpen downstairs. Some days that area was filled with daily jurists, but most days it was just us, with Tank Girl and the rest of the jury staff in their enclosed office at the front of the room. Upstairs, the other side of the hall appeared to have numerous offices where police and staff went in and out, but I was never sure what they were.

There were 23 of us. As Brenda explained, it was our job to hear felony cases reported to us by Assistant District Attorneys (ADA’s), sometimes with witnesses (usually the victim, arresting officer and detectives), and occasionally defendants with their attorneys. It was our job to vote whether to go forward with an indictment on the felony charges, which would require 12 of us to find in favor. The two foremen sat in the judge’s area at the front of the room, and the two secretaries sat at a wooden table beneath them. (The water cooler/microwave area was to the right, with a witness stand on the left before the wall with the restrooms. When the ADA’s presented a case, they would stand at the entrance to the room right where our seats began, three rows of chairs on three small terraces. Every time they presented, they had a court stenographer with them, sitting next to the secretary and two feet below the witness stand.)

Of the 23 people, I took notes one day and came up with this loose demographic breakdown: seven black people (six women, one man), seven white (two women, five men), three Asian (all women), three Indian (all women) and three Hispanic (all women). No one clumped together. There were no recognizable lines drawn among any demographic. More recognizably, there were six guys and 17 women. Aside from one loose cannon, the guys kept to themselves. The average age skewed older, with a handful of clear retirees, and roughly equal numbers of middle-aged and younger people. The main foreman was a shy Indian woman, her second an equally shy Hispanic woman. The secretary was a large, affable white guy, his second a studios black woman.

We usually kept the same seats as when we first walked in. The second day, this black woman who would reveal herself as a bit of a nut and constant questioner, was in “my” seat by the window, which irritated me. I sat on the other side of the room, weathering a constant barrage of whispers from the women behind me having a meaningless personal conversation that went on for two hours. (The next day, I got there early and staked out my seat by the window. The only black guy sat next to me, a nice, reserved guy who ran his own party D.J. business. The black woman on the other side of him was equally pleasant and good to be around. The white guy behind me looked like Patrick Simmons from The Doobie Brothers and didn’t have much to say.)

I should point out the concept of hours. Hours sometimes passed between cases. We got there at 9:15 in the morning. The earliest first case we heard was 10:00. Normally, the first case would be closer to 11:00 or 11:15, quickly followed by another case. This would take us up to 12:00 – 12:30, at which time, we’d have lunch, always until 2:00. Usually there were two or three cases after lunch. There were times when we would sit there for two hours between cases with nothing to do, save whatever we brought with us. I brought along my Kindle and gave it good use for the month, reading constantly. Some people had laptops, magazines or paperbacks. Sometimes the TV was on. (I forgot to mention the TV was necessary and stationed next to the witness stand. There was a laptop attached on a shelf underneath it with a DVD-R drive that was used heavily for video evidence.) If you weren’t smart enough to bring something to pass the hours, and many people weren’t, you stared into space or chattered. I can tell you that having someone whisper a few feet behind your ear in a stone quiet room makes concentrating on anything very hard!

Eventually, the TV would get heavy use. One of the white guys insisted on watching the impeachment hearings during our down time, which was like watching the two most popular groups in high school have a prolonged catfight. I shouldn’t be too derogatory. That was like Masterpiece Theatre compared to The Wendy Williams Show that one of the black women favored. If it wasn’t that, it was The Kelly Clarkson Show in the afternoon. Watching either was like getting a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

It didn’t take long for the cases to come in. Patterns quickly developed. Many of the ADA’s were attractive women somewhere in their 30s. Why? I don’t have a clue. A few were average looking, but most were anywhere from reasonably attractive to stunning. The male ADA’s were more officious, guys who’d been to law school but still liked to high-five each other. It was their job to tell us stories, create narratives that led us from the Point A of someone being victimized, through identifying the defendant, informing us of evidence, apprehending the defendant, then charging us with full legal definitions of the crime before we voted. (Many were the same charges with different degrees, sometimes even the same degree with different legal sub-sections. You had to listen carefully to understand the differences.)

Seeing no hands and hearing no voices. That was a common refrain we grew all too familiar with. Any time an ADA presented a witness, questioned him or her and then asked if we had any questions … once all questions were answered, those were the words spoken each time, like a magical incantation. The witness was excused. Next!

The cases were rarely a “one and done” process. A few cases were like that, where the ADA came in, went through this process, and we were done. Far more often, the cases were presented in two or three parts over the course of days or weeks, so note-taking on our part was important. I learned fast to take precise notes, particularly noting dollar amounts, whether or not the victim ID’d the defendant, the timelines involved, what types of weapons were used, etc.

Why were they done like this? Clearly, because the ADA’s had a scheduling nightmare in terms of presenting cases. There were often one or two witnesses who had to be scheduled to come in, usually an arresting police officer and often a detective or two who had to testify. Try getting people in New York just to go out to dinner, then think about how hard it would be to corral 4-5 of them to appear in court on the same day. Officers and detectives had to take time from work or come in on their days off. All of them were rarely scheduled on the same day. Keep in mind, we were charged with indicting a crime. If the crime actually went to the court? This would happen all over again, although I gather an officer or detective being summoned to a criminal/jury case must drop everything and be there as ordered. Also keep in mind, they didn’t just pull up to the courthouse before their appearance. Many of these cases were months, sometimes years, old, and they had to sit down with the ADA’s to review their notes and videos before appearing.

We all had voluminous pages of notes. I had about six pages, scrawled on each side, each page divided up into four sections. I was constantly running out of space. These were crucial on those turnaround days when we had to revisit a case that we hadn’t seen in two weeks. I could tell by many of the questions asked, some people weren’t keeping good notes (or simply didn’t know how to listen).

The main thing I learned in grand jury duty? Watch yourself in public: chances are, at least in a major city, you are being filmed. Nearly every case had video evidence of crimes occurring in public places, or at least evidence of a defendant going to or coming from a crime scene. The television got constant use.

The second main thing I learned? If you find yourself a defendant in a felony case, consider testifying to the grand jury, even when doing so kills your immunity. Why? Of the dozens of cases we voted on, only a few were not pushed forward to indictment. A vast majority of them were slam dunks, people caught in the act, often on camera, and there was no question. Two of the cases that weren’t put forward were the only cases where defendants came into court and offered their statements. In each case, the jury went in with the attitude of “this one is obviously an indictment” … but shortly found themselves wondering what the hell was going on when they realized there were two sides to the story.

And that became a problem for me, although there was nothing I could do about it. It occurred to me that in these cases, we were hearing only the prosecution’s side: a carefully-crafted story line to make it appear that this was an obvious case that demanded to be indicted, a slam dunk.

That’s not reality. There are two sides to every story? There are countless sides to every story. If you had a dozen people in an area witnessing a violent act, each one would have a different story, some wildly so that it would appear that no one had witnessed the same incident. Keep in mind, as part of a grand jury duty, we’re witnessing violence. People getting stabbed. Beat up. Held up. Molested. Or stealing things openly in public. Or breaking into stores and businesses. Selling illegal substances in public. The cameras used in those cases made everything relatively clear. Many cases did not have cameras and only testimony.

Not only that, some of the ADA’s were bad at creating narratives. I only blew a gasket once in the process, in the third week when, out of the blue, a witness was brought in identifying the defendant in a case as someone who had lived in a halfway house in the Bronx. (I’m changing the particular details of the case so it doesn’t match the actual, active case.) Apropos of nothing. The victim in the original incident we had viewed had already ID’d his mugshot. I had no idea why that witness was brought in, other to visually identify the defendant outside the constraints of the actual crime.

“How did the detective know to approach the manager of a halfway house in the Bronx, and why does it matter?” I blurted out. Fellow jurors looked at me as if I was insane. They were so used to being told what to do and think by the ADA’s that this weird detour was just something that blew right by them. What had probably happened was the detective running the case had researched previous convictions for people committing the same crime in that part of Queens, came up with the mugshots, narrowed them down to ones that resembled the defendant, ran the mugshots by the victim for a positive ID, one matched, tried to find his address, and all he could find was this halfway house the guy had lived in a year earlier. Why that mattered at all in this case, I had no idea.

You see, I’m assuming all this. We’re instructed to assume nothing and base our findings only on evidence that was presented to us. Quite often with bad ADA’s, we were not actually shown how the police came to apprehend the defendant.  It was usually summarized as, “I arrested the defendant on 1/21/19.” I would imagine at the grand jury stage, this is not as important, but in my mind there were some shady and inexplicable ways that some of the defendants came to be arrested. At that stage, the ADA’s were hyper-focused on the crime itself. But in my mind, it was just as essential to let the jury know exactly how this person was identified and eventually apprehended.

The Good ADA’s laid out each case as a complete narrative, making sure the detectives described how they came to apprehend the defendant, and dotting ever “i” from the moment the crime took place.  The bad ones left me shaking my head. Very often, there were unexplained bits of key research like this by the detectives, and very few grand jurists seemed to notice or care.  They assumed everything they were being told was unquestionably correct.

But hearing the defendant’s side of the case each time resulted in non-indictments. I fully agreed with one of them, an altercation that got way out of hand. But the other was shaky, with the defendant playing dumb in hopes the jury would believe his story that implied a friend was far more responsible for the crime. One of the black women, who had shown her hand a few times with truly insane questions to the ADA, was yelling out lines like that, “You know how it is! Snitches get stitches!” She made a few statements inferring that since the defendant was black, and she was black, she understood exactly what was going on, i.e., inferring, not basing her lunacy on actual evidence.  A few other women loudly chimed in, “That’s right! That’s right!” It became more like The Wendy Williams Show coming out of a commercial break, with the studio audience hooting and carrying on, than a court room. That was the only genuinely disturbing moment for me, and it came and went in less than a minute.

That woman had been stewing the whole time – I knew the vibe. We were all stewing in there at various points. It’s impossible not to get wound up and let it out at some point. Many of us had WTF moments where we either exploded or expressed exasperation with the process (as I had). While our days ran from 9:30 to 3:30 (4:30 at the latest), often with a two-hour lunch, I have never felt as mentally drained and exhausted as I have coming home from grand jury duty. Part of it was the excruciating down time between cases, but mostly it’s the after-effect of hearing these violent and/or stupid cases, over and over. A lot of nervous laughter and joking occurred after an indictment to cover the mild revulsion and horror we were all feeling at being exposed to this routinely for days on end.

Without fail, the people with the most mediocre minds were the ones who kept asking questions of the ADA’s. (This was a big process of raising your hand, getting out of your seat, going down to where the stenographer sat, and crouching there with the ADA so you could have your question on record.) Not one question asked ever made sense to me – it was either obvious or irrelevant. Someone asking a question to determine innocence or guilt. We weren’t there for that; we were there to determine whether the case and evidence were strong enough for an indictment for a criminal court to proceed.

Two black women (the one mentioned above), a white woman and a white guy. Always the same people asking senseless questions. The white guy got on my nerves. Queens native, older, pot-bellied, claimed to have bad knees from playing basketball through his adulthood (and he was hobbled). He had an odd, somehow aggressive face. His mouth appeared to be always slightly open, and he had hard, downcast eyes. He looked something like a sad clown without the makeup. Or if one of The Pep Boys had been a mass murderer instead of a car-parts salesman. Instead of typing texts, he loudly spoke words into his smartphone to translate to text (in an otherwise silent room). He fancied himself a deep thinker; we could all tell by his James Patterson paperbacks. I’ve come to realize James Patterson novels are comic books for white, middle-aged males. I’ve seen this countless times in offices!  Do you read?  Yes, I read quite a lot on the Metro North train when not reading The Wall Street Journal. My favorite author is James Patterson.

Something about his light Queens accent, that hang-dog face, the predictable reading material, his inane questions and routine gerrymandering, made me dislike him. (Without fail, the loudest people on the grand jury were the most asinine. I indulged once or twice myself but not to the level of these other folks.) But given the circumstance, I could see this guy rarely got a chance to pontificate, thus he took it. He didn’t seem like a bad guy in general; I’d probably like him under different circumstances. But with a captive audience and an urge to expound? It was a bit much after the second week.

The only respite for me was walking around Kew Gardens and Forest Hills at lunch time for two hours daily. Believe me, I walked everywhere. Any direction you could go from the courthouse, I went. From Parsons Boulevard to the northeast, down to the huge Maple Grove Cemetery to the east, northwest along the Grand Central Parkway and the southern edge of Flushing Meadows Park, south along Austin Street, and as far southwest as Metropolitan and 71st Avenue.

Two incredible neighborhoods! I’ve seen high-end suburbs and rural suburbs elsewhere. It’s rare to see neighborhoods that nice and well-kept within subway train distance of Manhattan. I would love to move out there but damn well know that whole area is out of my league financially. It was amazing to cut left on grimy Queens Boulevard at, say, Ascan Avenue, then walk down it, past Austin Street, and see this incredibly upscale, lush neighborhood of mansions and huge, ornate houses with large yards. There was also that style to so many buildings - the arched triangular fronts – that’s a hallmark of what must have been a gilded age in Kew Gardens. I’ll include a Google street-view map link here. Follow the camera under the bridge and take note of the scenery as you navigate down the avenue.

Another nice, unexpected thing I saw: weddings. I had forgotten that people get married at courthouses. Each day at the main entrance to our courthouse, there were various wedding parties. Usually young black or Hispanic couples, sometimes Asian, once even a white couple. Small gatherings, the bride and groom and a few family members, often small kids holding bouquets. They were clearly overjoyed, even in the rain, to be getting married at the courthouse. Almost as important was the hustling dude who had his SUV parked in front of the courthouse, with his homemade collage poster advertising his wedding photography business. He sat there each day in the front seat, with a few plastic bouquets on the shrubbery by the side of the entrance, waiting for just-married couples to come out with their small, well-dressed parties to see if they needed his services. Often, they did. I found myself walking, head full of clouds and recent violent crime footage, only to see these smiling groups of people thoroughly enjoying themselves on their big day.

Those were the big pluses I took away. Overall? At times, I felt like grand jury duty was a complete waste of time and money. It is a waste of time for the jurists, hours and days of down time. A month taken from their lives. Two weeks seems like a much more reasonable timeframe to me. If I had to hold down a day job throughout this? The pressure from the duty itself combined with slipping backwards at my job would have been tremendous. It’s too much to ask of every-day citizens.

I ultimately understood why we were there: to save court costs further on in the legal process. We previewed felony cases so that the District Attorney’s office could come up with as many applicable criminal charges as possible. (Nearly every case was overcharged with upwards of six charges for even the most basic crimes, with multiple degrees of guilt.) I go the impression this was done so when it came time to present the case to a judge and ask for the defendant’s plea, a vast majority of the time a plea bargain would be struck between the District Attorney’s office and the defense attorney. Thus, a criminal court case in front of a jury would be avoided.

Do you realize how much money that saves in terms of court fees and the enormous salaries of attorneys, district attorneys and judges? They’ll be there anyway, but plea bargains help to cut down the number of cases they handle and help push along what I gather is a deeply stressed and far behind schedule legal calendar for any criminal court in a major city. We were serving as the first, much more affordable line of defense in terms of the ADA’s coming up with a laundry list of charges that would be whittled down, and probably dropped a few degrees, so that a defendant could make a plea and end up spending much less time incarcerated than if he had taken the case to trial.

Or maybe I’m just full of shit and don’t know what I’m talking about!

The last Friday (after Thanksgiving) we all sat there doing nothing until 12:30 before receiving our certificates and getting the hell out of there. My Thanksgiving was completely blown, but I still felt great to know I wouldn’t be heading back there again. As I left, a few of the older black women were taking their time to say goodbye to each other. There was a strong matronly quality to them that I did appreciate throughout the month, particularly an older woman with dreads and a cane. That last day, she had dozed off in her chair and started snoring. I only wished I could have turned off my mind far enough to relax like that and sleep.

At times, it felt like a complete waste of time. Unless I’m one of those happy people getting married and posing on the steps, I don’t ever want to set foot in the Kew Gardens courthouse again. We were told that serving on a grand jury pushes out our next jurist availability date eight years. I’ll be damned if ever walk into that courthouse again. I’m feeling a bit numb and exhausted now, after a month of these shenanigans, and I’m sincerely hoping I never have to do anything remotely like this again. I did my time.