Early February I received a summons in the mail to serve as a juror for the District Court of Tulsa County. My start date was March 5. This is a recounting of the three days in which I served.1
I arrived at the Civic Center Parkade parking garage in downtown Tulsa on Monday, March 5 at 8:40 AM, blaming the 10 minute tardiness to the backed up traffic at a dysfunctional light at 96th and Riverside. At the parkade, I asked the lady if parking would be free for me since I summoned for jury. She maintained that it would still cost me $5, which meant I’d be making $15 that day, not the $20 we were promised as reimbursement for our service.2
The car safely parked on the second floor of the garage, I stumbled about on foot downtown, unfamiliar with the area. I finally arrived at the courthouse at 8:50 AM, now a solid 20 minutes late. I was exhausted and weak with hunger, having run a 10K that morning with no breakfast. There was a long line outside the Tulsa County Courthouse thanks to the rigamarole of going through security. It was a crisp and rather windy 50°F, and people were wishing aloud that they’d brought coats as they shivered in line. The security setup was similar to an airport’s. When it was finally my turn to put my backpack through the scanner, an agent flagged it for containing a fork utensil, an item the courthouse had recently begun banning. My fork was intended for some grilled eggs which would serve as my breakfast once I had a moment to myself. The agent made it clear that he couldn’t throw away the fork himself; it was my responsibility to dispose of it outside the courthouse, which meant exiting and starting over. I walked the four blocks back to my car and wolfed down my breakfast, using my precious fork. Then I left the fork in the car, walked back to the courthouse, and started all over again at the back of the line.
By 9:40 AM I was finally in the courthouse basement, which serves as a waiting room for summoned jury candidates. There were hundreds of people down there, as well as a free wifi hotspot that couldn’t handle the load. I tried tethering from my smartphone but its connection was E (extended) down there in the concrete bunker. In the back of my mind I planned to arrive at 8:00 AM the next morning to beat the crowds, but I learned a lady next to me had arrived at that exact hour and been surprised to see the line already fully formed. It made zero difference apparently.
Around 10:30 AM we were given a 10-minute break and reminded that if we left the building, we would have to go through security again. I went to a vending machine, still faint with hunger, eager to get some chips or most anything. The vending machines only accepted cash, and I only had credit cards. There was an ATM next to it but ATM’s don’t accept credit cards. Luckily there was a little shop open next to the vending machines that accepted credit cards. I got a mediocre hot dog with cheese for $2.50. The shop was so slow and overwhelmed with jurors that I arrived back to the basement 5 minutes late, but lots of other people were still coming from break too, and nobody cared.
At 11:45 AM we were given a 90-minute lunch break and reminded that if we took our cars anywhere to eat, we’d have to re-enter the parking garage and pay an additional $5. As the room cleared out, I noticed that the wifi started working as its load went to manageable levels. I had to go eat lunch myself though, so after a few minutes of computer work on a side project, I walked the 4 blocks back to my car again. I’d begun noticing that the heels of my feet were hurting from a new pair of dress shoes. When I got back to the car, I realized that my also-brand new socks were wearing down right where the top back of the shoe met the heel, and they were soaked in blood. Worried, I took off my shoes and socks and discovered that my heels were rubbed raw. All of that walking had caused a real ruckus. After finishing my sandwich I limped back to courthouse basement, wincing with every step, trying to make it look like no big deal.
By 2:00 PM, stuck in a chair with white noise reminiscent of an airport terminal, with wifi intermittently usable, I had grown suicidal. I started to wonder if maybe the best course was to just hang all the defendants regardless of their status and release all of us prisoners from the basement. It was dreadful down there. A lot of people were on their phones, some were trying to nap, others were putting together jigsaw puzzles. It was crowded and difficult to get work done as we watched our lives tick away.
But then at 2:30 PM, a bailiff arrived and summoned a group of us into a courtroom for a criminal case. It involved a man accused of pointing a gun at someone else back in 2016. The judge excited us by promising that the trial would be over by end of tomorrow, or Wednesday morning by the very latest. She asked us some preliminary questions, a process called voir dire. The goal was to weed out from the pool of potential jurors anyone who might not be able to offer a fair assessment due to conflicts of interest, biases in favor of one party or the other, etc. One of the jurors recognized the defense attorney as someone who had defended his brother in a previous case, and this juror was consequently summoned to return to the basement as an illegible candidate for this hearing. The judge’s preliminary questions were over by 3:30 PM. We were told to return to the basement the following day no later than 9:30 AM, at which point our bailiff would take us back to the courtroom.
The next day, Tuesday, I put on some band aids on my bloody heels, and used a different pair of shoes that unfortunately also rubbed in the exact same spot. The line through security was much shorter this time, almost nonexistent. It dawned on me that since jury summons occur on Mondays and each day thereafter people are dismissed or told to come back at varying times throughout the day, the Monday line wait is probably always the worst.
Back in the courtroom at the appointed hour, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney questioned us about various things, continuing the voir dire process from the day before. We were asked whether we owned guns, where we kept them, if we were members of the NRA, and if we thought there was a responsible way to handle guns. A good half of the room were gun owners. Next, the prosecuting attorney asked if anyone would have a hard time convicting someone over purely circumstantial evidence. One fellow did, and the attorney said that they would like to dismiss him (each side gets to choose a total of 3 people to dismiss). Because this dismissal process is supposed to happen while the court is adjourned, the judge indicated that the attorney’s dismissal request was premature. I’d later learn that this was the very first trial in the prosecuting attorney’s career. After the questioning was complete, we took a 15 minute break. When we returned, the jury selection was announced. It was comprised of a total of 7 people — 6 jurors and one backup, called an alternate juror. I wasn’t chosen.
I’d learn the following day that the defense attorney had been at his profession for twenty years and that the jury acquitted his client of the charge. I have no idea if the man was guilty or innocent, but sometimes the winner is determined by who’s the better attorney, not by who’s telling the truth. When talking about this with another fellow juror, a bartender who had also been dismissed, and we both agreed that, though we’d heard none of the evidence of the case, we didn’t like the vibes from the defendant and suspected him to be guilty of the charge. As an aside, imagine if we’d been selected for that jury. And then imagine that this sort of thing really does happen all the time in criminal courts. Jurors affirm that they won’t make up their minds until they’ve heard all the facts, but from the very outset, they have intuitions about how they feel about a case. Of course they do. They’re already leaning towards a verdict. Nobody is truly objective, no matter how much they want to think that they are.
Those of us who weren’t selected for the case were told to return to the basement. We anticipated we’d be dismissed, done for the week, and done for the next 5 years.3 Alas, when we descended from the 5th floor around 11:15 AM and reported at the basement desk, we were told we could take a 10 minute break and then we had to return. There were still cases for that week that didn’t yet have juries, and everyone had to stay in the pool until all of the cases had their juries selected.
One thing I started noticing was that there were three types of people down in that basement. First, there were the down-and-outers, the bums who lived on Netflix all day long, who got out of bed assuming the day was a wash anyway, and who consequently didn’t seemingly mind being there in the least. Second, there were the upper middle class elitists, who made plenty of money and were kind of bummed that they had to be there, but were taking it in stride as they fielded important phone calls, who knew they wouldn’t really feel the loss of money that they’d otherwise be making at their cushy jobs. Third, there were the average hard working middle to lower middle class country boys, who were somewhere between upset and furious that they had to be there, and eager to get out as soon as they could, who didn’t have any hesitation loudly dropping lines like, “THEY’RE GUILTY” as soon as their names were called, in hopes that they’d be dismissed for cause before their plaintiff even arrived.
At 11:45 AM we were once again given a 90-minute lunch break. “It’s not very often you get to take a ninety minute lunch break,” the lady at the desk said over the intercom, trying to give us something to be grateful for amidst the misery of the basement. I met up with a friend working a few buildings down the street. We went to a company cafeteria, got some nachos, and exchanged notes of how our weeks were going. After returning back around 1:00 PM, I opened my MacBook Pro and got back to work, doing some freelancing on a WordPress project. We were told that there was one more jury that needed to be assembled and that once that was complete, the rest of us were free to leave the courthouse for good. About 2:00 PM they started calling the names for this final panel. I listened as the names rattled off, one by one. And then they called mine.
I cringed when I heard it, knowing that this meant I’d have one more day to go at a bare minimum. A cowboy who’d been in the pool for the previous criminal trial, who had been particularly eager to leave and had gone on and on about his gun collection in hopes of getting dismissed from the case, and who’d had his wish granted, heard his name called too. As I picked up my backpack and prepared to meet the bailiff for this new case, I asked him with a rueful grin, “Why is this happening to us?” His loud, grim answer was, “I guess we just got f****** lucky.” Once we were all assembled, the bailiff told us that he had some “good news,” which was that the trial wouldn’t start until the following day at 2:00 PM. You could hear the jurors grumbling, wondering what was good about this news. As far as we were concerned, it simply meant an extension to our jail time.
The bailiff revealed that this would be a civil case, and I could tell from the number of juror candidates for this trial that the jury would be a full 12, not 6 like the previous criminal case.
Two or three people, including the cowboy, approached the bailiff and told him they had a problem. They didn’t get paid except for days they actually worked, they said, and if they lost any more days of work at their regular jobs, they would stand to lose some serious coin for the month. The bailiff replied, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that. You’ll have to talk to the judge about that tomorrow at two o’clock.” “At two o’clock,” repeated the cowboy with a long face. He began plotting a scheme.
Wednesday rolled around, and this time I was finally forced to discard my new dress shoes and put on an old disheveled pair instead. They were the only shoes that didn’t murder my heels with every step. I arrived at the 5th floor of the courthouse by 2:00 PM and we walked into the courtroom. The case was a lawsuit in which someone had rear ended another driver. The voir dire process would go on to expose cause for removal for three jurors before the plaintiff and defense attorneys exercised their three respective strikes.
To start with, there was a man who worked for a lawn care business. He tried to make a case that if he was not excused to go mow his clients’ lawns, his company would lose those contracts, and since he was the newest employee at the company, he’d be the first victim of the resulting layoffs that he seemed so sure of. At that point he would be unemployed, and that wasn’t groovy because he needed to put food on the table for his wife and daughters. In other words, serving as a juror would be undue hardship. He made it clear that he had expected to be done with his jury duty by mid-week. The judge tried to be sympathetic but emphatically told him that jury duty typically lasted for one week and that the balance of regular work and civic duty as juror was something to which everyone was subject. Mr. Lawn Mower wasn’t going to get off that easy.
After hearing this rant, the cowboy from the previous day offered a better excuse for himself. He said that yesterday he had gotten word that his uncle had passed away and that the funeral would be held tomorrow, Thursday. I was floored when I heard this. He hadn’t said anything about this to the plaintiff yesterday, I thought. What’s going on here? The judge told him that she was sorry for his loss, and excused him. Later in the hallway, I asked a fellow juror if he believed the cowboy’s story. He laughed and said it seemed suspicious. It was the perfectly concocted story. The cowboy had chosen the death of an uncle — a family relation that’s not too far removed to be deemed trivial, but not too close to raise eyebrows. It was the perfect sweet spot; too sweet. What’s the judge to do, heartlessly demand a death certificate as proof?
Maybe the story was true; I’ll never know for sure. But the previous day, this very cowboy had been complaining about how he needed to get back to earning real money, and then, just like that, sometime after Tuesday at 3:30 PM, his uncle had conveniently given up the ghost, a story he offered only after it was clear from Mr. Lawn Mower’s unsuccessful rant that a work-related concern wasn’t a sufficiently undue hardship for which to be excused from jury.
And then there was the hispanic gentleman who stated he had been on the faulty end of a car collision and that as a result of this experience, it would be impossible for him to be fair in the trial, and that he was therefore unqualified to serve as a juror in the case. I’m still not sure if he was using this purely as an excuse to be done with jury for the week or if he was genuinely being that impossible about it. I’m leaning towards the former explanation. Like all of us at that point, he just wanted to be done. We all knew that this was the final case for the week, so being dismissed from this particular courtroom meant being dismissed from the courthouse. In response, the plaintiff attorney (the one suing for damages to the defendant for his client’s sustained ongoing injuries, allegedly from this long-ago car collision) requested that the judge dismiss the juror for cause. The judge glanced at the defense attorney, who motioned that he was in agreement. And that was the end of that juror. He picked up his things and walked out.
After the judge asked some questions and we took a 15-minute break, the attorneys began their questioning. The plaintiff attorney had the burden of proof, so he started first. One of the first things he did was address Mr. Lawn Mower with his southern drawl. “I’m really getting the feeling that you don’t want to be here,” he said as kindly as that sentence can be said. Mr. Lawn Mower sighed, “I think everybody here has that feeling.”4 “Are you able to give this case your full attention over the next couple of days, or is your mind constantly going to be drifting to your work?” “I think about my work all the time. Especially so when I’m at a place like… this.” The plaintiff attorney knew not spend one of his three strikes on someone who could be dismissed for cause. At the consent of the judge and the defense attorney, he relieved Mr. Lawn Mower of his juror duty, and the latter shuffled out, clearly grateful that someone had finally freed him from the courthouse cage, albeit grieved that it had taken this long. As he walked out, a sense of relief swept through the whole room. You could feel it.
After the attorneys finished their voir dire, we took a 15 minute break whilst they selected the final jury. In the hallway, I chatted with a fellow juror who was a bartender — the same aforementioned bartender — about what our chances were of getting selected. Both of us were hoping we wouldn’t get selected so we could go home and be done with it, but we wanted to go about it more classily than those three who had been dismissed. After all, it would be downright embarrassing to have to explain to your family and friends that you were dismissed for cause.
The bailiff summoned us back in the courtroom a few minutes shy of 5:00 PM, and the judge announced the jury. As she called out the names, neither Mr. Bartender nor I were selected. But there was one little problem when she was finished: there were only twelve people in the jury seats. The alternate juror had not been announced. An attorney pointed this out to the judge and they huddled around the desk, comparing notes to see who the 13th person was. Finally they figured it out, and alas, it was Mr. Bartender. He walked to his juror seat, sat down, and looked back at me, grinning sheepishly. I grinned back. He would have a very long Thursday and Friday. This was going to be a boring lawsuit for him; since it was a civil case and not a criminal one, only 9 out of the 12 jurors would have to come to an agreement, but because he was the alternate juror, he likely wouldn’t even get to contribute to that verdict.
All I knew was that it was 5:00 PM, I’d served 3 days as juror, been in two courtrooms for two cases, been selected for neither one, and it was time to go home. Those of us who had not been selected walked out of the courtroom and celebrated in the hallway that we had not been chosen. We were free.
I went in search of an elevator.
Drinking Caffeine is a technology-focused column but I’m realizing that vivid, unique tales are also interesting and hard to pass up. Also, for full clarity, the trials in which I was made privy have been completed. Everything in this story is non-sensitive information. Still, you’ll notice I’m vague with the names of pretty much everybody in here. That’s attributable to the simple fact that I’m terrible with names. ↩︎
I would later learn that at some earlier point, the court had been tasked to decide between either providing free parking or reimbursing for milage, and it’d opted for the latter. I also learned that mileage reimbursement is calculated automatically based on your documented address of residence. ↩︎
If you’re summoned to jury any time during the next five years after a previous summons, you are excused. ↩︎
His answer here was vague. I’m not sure if he meant, “Everyone here has the feeling that I don’t want to be here,” or, “Everyone here has the feeling that they themselves don’t want to be here.” At first I thought he meant the former, but upon reflection I think he meant the latter. ↩︎