How I Survived Judgment Day and Lived to Tell About It

Judgment day came recently. I know because I was there.

"How did I manage to miss it?" you're probably asking yourself. "And since I slept through it, will I get another shot?" Maybe. But if you don't I wouldn't get too excited. Take it from me, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Of course I'm talking about serving on jury duty, which is not only your chance to exercise your civic responsibility by helping power the wheels of justice, but is the only form of torture condoned by the Geneva Convention, which in case you wondered, is an annual affair held at the Geneva Marriott (motto: "Not only are our bank accounts unnumbered, so are our rooms.") during which distinguished world leaders discuss topics of global import, make decisions which will affect the future of our planet, and wear red fezzes while driving miniature cars through the halls of the hotel.

The news that I'd won a chance to sit in a jury box and pray that the eleven people sitting beside me weren't actually my peers came by way of an official looking letter. Not as official looking as the ones Ed McMahon sends, but official enough to catch my attention. It informed me that on this particular Monday morning I should be prepared to administer jurisprudence. Luckily I didn't have to be able to spell it. The only ways I could be excused from sitting in judgment were to be medically incapable ("Please submit a letter from a physician"), on vacation ("Please send the court a picture postcard"), or dead ("Include a copy of your death certificate with your signature notarized ").

So how did I, the only person on three continents who's never seen Judge Joe Brown or Judge Judy in action, get selected for this honor? According to the letter they cull names from voter registration rolls, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Victoria's Secret catalog mailing list. After carefully feeding all the names into a computer, they pop open a six-pack and watch reruns of Matlock while the computer spits out a list of people it hates. I must have really done something nasty to the computer during its prior life as a calculator since this was the second time in 18 months it chose me, a fact even more amazing when you consider that during the same time I couldn't even win a free ticket in the state lottery.

Thus did I find myself in the basement of the courts building at 8:45 AM with fifty other semi-comatose potential jurors, thankful that I wasn't putting my fate in the hands of people like us. During a short instructional video -- "I'm not a judge, but I play one in this film" -- we learned the same judicial lessons lawyers spend four years and hundreds of thousands of Daddy's hard earned bucks to discover:

1. As a juror we must remain impartial, at least until the defendant's check clears the bank.

2. We must stay alert at all times or we'll have to wear gum on our nose for the rest of the trial.

3. Lawyers are no better than the rest of us, except you'll never convince them of this.

We also learned the answer to the question anyone who's ever watched Perry Mason is dying to know: Do judges wear anything under their robes? (It turns out they wear kilts but we were sworn to secrecy, so don't tell anyone.)

Not only was jury duty to be an educational experience, it would also be financially rewarding. While most of us would have gladly performed this civic duty for nothing, they graciously agreed to pay us next to nothing: $1.50 for "mileage." This meant that if we sat on a jury that lasted all day we'd make 18.75 cents per hour, or about 2.8 percent of what we could earn burning burgers at McDonald's. Of course you can't sentence a customer to two life terms at McDonald's just because you have a headache. The best you can do there is help clog his arteries and contribute to his obesity.

(To be fair, if we spent a second day on a trial we'd receive $15 for that day plus another $1.50 for mileage. That's a pretty phenomenal raise after only one day on the job, something which would not only be a nice ego boost but look very impressive on a resume.)

Actually sitting on a jury can be an enlightening experience. Or so they tell me. After hanging around the jury assembly room reading, dozing off, and thinking how wonderfully impartial it was that the soda machine offered both Coke and Pepsi, we were told we weren't needed and could go home. And that we wouldn't be called back for at least a year. That gives me plenty of time to bone up on my jury duties by watching Court TV. I can sit in judgment in the comfort of my own living room while wearing a ratty old bathrobe and socks with holes in the toes without some guy in a black choir robe holding me in contempt of court. I can make microwave popcorn during commercial breaks and not have to share it with eleven people, none of whom like extra butter. And best of all, if Geraldo Rivera comes on shooting his mouth off and trying to justify having spent four years and hundreds of thousands of Daddy's hard earned bucks getting through law school, I can change the channel and watch the Iron Chef.

Of course on the other hand, I won't get my $1.50 a day for mileage. But hey, there's always next year.

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