Jury Duty, Five Weeks In

My time in jury duty has passed the five-week mark, and yes, it’s still ongoing. We are down to two alternates, having started with four, but the remaining jurors — having already cancelled business trips, personal vacations, and potential clients — seem committed to seeing the case through to its bitter end. The transcripts for the trial number over two thousand pages, a fact I learned today when one of the attorneys read a passage from yesterday’s testimony to a witness. The judge tries to give us the occasional pep talk and has told us twice that we deserve to wear robes too, but it’s pretty clear that the jury’s morale and patience are wearing thin.

In these five weeks, I’ve finished reading five books and made a dent in my Instapaper backlog for the first time in years. I’ve eaten at my favorite Chinatown restaurant three times and have tried seven new restaurants, all within a third of a mile from the courthouse. I have spent $99 on subway fares to and from the courthouse and learned that the northeast exit of Chambers Street station has eight steps in the first part of the staircase and eighteen steps in the second part of the staircase. The temperatures have fluctuated from the 50s to the 90s, but the jury room is always stuffy, and the courtroom is perpetually cold.

I’ve started wearing a wristwatch. I’ve started using an umbrella. I’ve established a ten-minute morning makeup routine. I’ve developed both a renewed love for stroopwafels and a strong enough reputation for loving stroopwafels that one of the other jurors, who works for one of the foreign missions to the UN, gifted me an entire tin of them from her counterparts in the Dutch mission. In the jury room, we’ve posed for photographs and shared many desserts and watched Comey’s Senate testimony streamed live on someone’s iPad.

We’ve seen one of jurors develop a bad cold and then recover from it. We’ve witnessed one of the attorneys seemingly on the verge of physical collapse. We’ve watched a witness appear to have a panic attack. We’ve sat with our mouths hanging at certain arguments between witness and attorney or attorney and judge. One of the court reporters indulged our curiosity and explained to us how a stenotype works. From the court officer, who we call by his first name and with whom we share our snacks, I learned that tourists sometimes wander into the courthouse and sit in on trials, which, despite the jury not being able to talk about them, are open to the public.

I’ve heard testimony from more witnesses than I ever expected, and I’ve watched the attorneys inquire in turn: direct examination, cross examination, re-direct, re-cross, re-re-direct, re-re-cross. It took me embarrassingly long to figure out that “re-direct” meant not some kind of redirection but, rather, direct examination again. I’ve learned the many different types of objections and memorized each attorney’s catchphrases and decided which of the expert witnesses I would hire — and which I wouldn’t — if I were ever looking for professional services in their respective fields.

I’ve learned that certain expert witnesses earn two hundred times the amount of my daily juror stipend for a day of testimony. That translates into more for three days of testimony than the annual income for a family of four at the current federal poverty level. Yet, at times, I’ve listened to these witnesses, at the direction of the questioning attorney, read aloud line-by-line from posters I can clearly see or perform arithmetic calculations so rudimentary and numerous that I find myself feeling insulted. I’ve watched the minutes tick by as the jury and the witness sit in silence, and the attorneys huddle at the judge’s bench, arguing their furious, whispered disputes.

Among the many things that have happened, here is something that hasn’t happened: we haven’t finished hearing from the plaintiff’s witnesses. We haven’t started the defense. Astonishingly, despite this, the judge tells us that he expects the trial, including our deliberations, to conclude by the end of next week. I haven’t allowed myself to believe him yet. Because there’s something else I’ve learned these past five weeks: the wheels of justice move at the pace of molasses.