By Mordechai Schmutter

If there’s one thing I learned from my recent stint in jury duty, it’s that when they make everyone hold up one hand and they say, “Do you swear or affirm …” you’re not supposed to yell, “Affirm!”

OK, so I learned a lot more than that.

For example, right before that, they said that we were all eligible for jury duty because we’d never been convicted of a crime. So apparently, you can get out of jury duty by committing a crime. Not that this makes sense. So you’re saying that if someone commits a crime, he gets to be judged by a jury of his peers who have never committed a crime? Then how are they his peers?

Why not use actual convicts? Those are the people who have nothing to do anyway, the ones we’re trying to torture humanely while also getting them to reconsider their lives of crime. Shouldn’t this be how we punish criminals?

“I sentence this man to three years of jury duty.”

“Noooooooooooooooo!”

I bet we can cut the crime rate right down.

But apparently, that’s one way to get out of jury duty: commit a crime. If you ask around, though, there are thousands of ways people have gotten out of jury duty, such as not showering for a while beforehand. They send you the notice several months before you have to appear in court, so you have time to build this up. That’s their mistake.

Another thing you can do is ask the judge whether this is one of those cases where you’re allowed to accept bribes.

Also, if you’re a homeowner, you can drop that into casual conversation:

“I have a bayis.”

They get very concerned when you say that, for some reason. If it’s a huge bayis, that’s even better. If it’s a huge semi-attached bayis up against people of the same ethnicity as those involved in the case, the judge will literally throw you out the window.

But you shouldn’t really try to get out of it. You’re there because it’s your duty as a citizen of this great country that affords you tons of freedoms — unless you count the freedom to ignore a jury summons — to show up and sit in a little box for weeks on end with 11 other people who can’t stop clearing their throats and listen to boring strangers argue.

It’s like getting free tickets to a show, and you get to decide how it ends, or they don’t let you leave.

And the way I understand it, setting up a court system is one of their mitzvos. Why wouldn’t we want to support that? It’s one of the few mitzvos they have, nebach.

So I figured I’ll come in, we’ll maybe do one of those quick trials, and I’ll be out by the end of the day. And if the trial I was in would take more than one day, that would be the problem of whoever was supposed to come in for jury duty the next day.

But nothing’s that quick. Though I didn’t know that yet. I was supposed to show up at 8:45 in the morning, and that’s when I pulled up in front of the courthouse, because I figured that the sooner I get in, the sooner I can get out. My thought was that we wanted to be in the courtroom by nine.

In all these stories people tell you about what they told the judge and how they got out of jury duty, no one ever mentions that they had to wait seven hours for the opportunity to say that.

Firstly, I might have gotten to the courthouse on time, but we weren’t supposed to park at the courthouse. I was supposed to park in the basement parking structure of a mostly empty mall two blocks away. And it was not a good neighborhood. I don’t remember the last time I felt more like I was going to be mugged than when I was at the courthouse.

I think that’s how they make their business.

It also took me a while to find my way back to the court building. But I found that all I had to do was follow all the other people who looked like they didn’t know where they were going. But first I had to actually get out of the garage, via an elevator in which the floors were represented by letters rather than numbers that did not indicate in any way what level we should get out. I got out on Floor M, where I was told that I was supposed to get out at P, which was higher than M and did not stand for “Parking.” So I had to get back into the elevator along with the whole group that had come out with me. And that’s how I knew who to stick with.

We finally found our way to the court building, where we had to go through a metal detector, in case someone who was randomly selected as a juror for a random case decided that during the case might be the best moment to pull out a weapon. The only weapons I had were my jacket and belt, apparently, which I had to take off and put through an X-ray machine, and then I had to race up the stairs and onto a huge line that snaked around the entire building so I could re-thread my belt while walking and holding my jacket and my oversized bag of activities.

The line led to a room where we would wait for our names to be called while sitting shoulder to shoulder with 1,200 other people who were annoyed at how their day was going. And anyone whose name wouldn’t be called would have to come back to that room and wait to be called again the next day.

It was a good three hours before they called anyone. And I use the term “good” very loosely.

The woman next to me was taking a nap. To be fair, it was two days after Daylight Savings Time had started, and 8:45 was actually 7:45. The woman near her was making a charcoal drawing of a photograph that she already had, on her laptop, of a bottle of wine and a bowl of tomatoes. Because she wanted to capture that moment twice. She brought actual charcoal.

I was marking essays. That’s how bored I was. I actually had a window seat, which sounds good on paper until you realize that the desirable seats in that situation were actually the ones with writing surfaces. The only surface I had — between me and Daylight Savings Lady — was a windowsill on which someone had left a thousand-piece puzzle, which I thought was hilarious.

About an hour in, someone gave an orientation speech, and Charcoal Lady elbowed Daylight Savings Lady awake for it, after which we watched an orientation video of someone giving an orientation speech that was pretty much the same as the one we’d just heard.

The speech did include some vital information, though, such as that for coming to jury duty, we would get paid $5 per day.

Sweet! I don’t know why everyone tries to get out of this…. Wait. Would we each get $5, or would we have to split it 1,200 ways?

To be honest, I was less annoyed when I thought we were doing it for free. Five dollars? That’s 62.5 cents per hour. I know this because I had time to do the math while I was sitting there on my 62.5 cents per hour.

We were also told that we would get an hour-long lunch break from waiting around, and if we wanted, we could wander down to the cafeteria, where it turns out that they charge more than $5 for almost everything they sell. So I think this whole jury duty thing might be a scam operated by the cafeteria people. I didn’t give them my money, obviously. I went to a supermarket in the mall for a week’s worth of snacks and then ate them underground in my car while several shoppers asked me if I was leaving.

I can’t believe I spent my whole paycheck in one place.

On the other hand, the $5 wasn’t pay for doing a job; it was a little something for coming in for the job interview. If we got selected, we were told, then beginning on the third day we would start getting $40! Which comes out to $5 an hour. Which is not minimum wage. Is that legal? You’d think the court system would know.

Maybe all the jurors that have ever served should get together and sue the judicial system. Any jury sitting on the trial would side with us. On the other hand, that would make any jury biased, so no one would pass the jury selection and the trial would never start. I bet there’s a court somewhere still trying to select people for this jury.

Even the cases that were going on that day were taking forever, seeing as at this point it was after 1:30 and I hadn’t been selected yet.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this two-part — or possibly 30-part — saga, depending on if I ended up getting selected.

I hope I didn’t, at this point.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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