The other day, we were summoned for jury duty. After weeding out everybody who’d moved out of Brooklyn (provided they had a good explanation), they showed us a most entertaining movie.
It began with people vaguely dressed as peasants marching through a forest to ominous music. They watch as soldiers in helmets made of baking pans tie a man hand and foot and throw him into a lake. The water closes over him. Glub, glub, glub.
Just when the suspense is becoming unbearable, a man in a tinfoil crown raises his arm. The peasants shout “hurrah!” and run splashing into the lake to fish the man out. He’s none the worse for wear – doesn’t even look wet – and everyone goes home happily.
The next scene shows then-Chief Judge Kaye (in modern dress), gazing earnestly into the camera. “That’s how trials used to be in the old days,” she says. “But thanks to jurors like yourselves, we have our marvelous present system of justice.”
That seems to be setting the bar awfully low. The best she can say about jury trials is that they’re better than throwing people into a lake?
Thanks to modern-day reform, it’s now the jurors who get subjected to the ordeal. Clutching their jury notices, they’re herded into a courtroom and sit for days being questioned like this:
Judge: Miz Jones – is that how you pronounce your name, “Jones”?
Juror: Uh huh.
Judge: Do you have relatives in law enforcement?
Judge: Do. you. have. any. family. like. brothers. or. sisters. or. a mother. or. father. or. husband. or. husband’s mother. or. husband’s father. who. works. for. the. police. department?
Judge: Who. is. that?
Juror: My uncle’s a police officer in Des Moines.
Judge: Does. he. talk. to. you. about. his. work?
Juror: Never met him.
[repeat this with all 62 potential jurors]
Judge: Now, Mr. Murgatroyd, I believe you said you have 13 children. Kindly state their ages and occupations.
Juror: Well, the youngest is unemployed, she’s only 6 months old. My oldest daughter is 32 and does data processing for the City. She started with the Department of Housing in 1999 when she got her college degree, and then she got a temporary job with the Department of Departments in 2002 which became permanent in 2004. Last year she moved to New Jersey and transferred to –
Judge: Wait, wait you’re going too fast. You say she worked for the Department of Housing in 2002 and then she moved to New Jersey?
Juror: The Department of Housing was 1999 when she was living in Brooklyn – no wait, I tell a lie, it was actually 1998 that she first started at the Department of Departments before her husband was transferred to Delaware –
Judge: (writing) husband. transferred. to. Delaware. Try to speak more slowly, Mr. Mugatroyd, we have 12 more of your children to go. . .
After three days of this, we started thinking, “What’s so bad about throwing the defendant into the lake?”