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There's a reason they
call it "jury duty." They call it jury duty
because it is indeed a duty and duty
of course implies that it's something you must
do and not something you want to do. The reason
no one wants to be called for jury duty, obviously, is
because jury duty is not fun. If it was fun they
would call it Jury Camp or Jury Jamboree or, at the
very least, Howdy Duty.
The courts are well aware that the majority
of Americans would rather have root canal surgery during
an IRS audit than serve in a box with eleven of their
fellow angry citizens. That's why they use vaguely
threatening language in the jury notices. "You
must report," "Subject to fine,"
"Use of cattle prods" or some such nonsense.
If folks really wanted to appear they would simply
say "Congratulations, you are the lucky winner
of a seat on a jury!" and the envelope would have
on it a picture of a smiling and bloated Ed McMahon.
Apparently, intimidation is the only way to get people to
show up against their will. Have you ever seen the
movie Twelve Angry Men? The men were only
angry because they were all too stupid to get out of
jury duty. That bit about injustice was all just
California is a great place to be an entertainer
who needs to get out of jury duty. The showbiz friendly
state would only require that I fill out a card explaining
that "financial hardship would result" and within
days a lovely "Get
Out Of Jury Duty Free Card" would appear in my mailbox.
California not only understands the realities of the
self-employed but they also realize the danger of
having entertainers seated in the jury box. Instead
of listening to the testimony the jurors would be
thinking, "Hey, isn't juror number two the guy
in the Fruit of the Loom commercial? He looks thinner
when he's not wearing that apple suit."
New Jersey-- bitter that it's not
New York-- wasn't so understanding. My current home
state just sent me a card with the word "Tough"
written in large red letters. So, off to jury duty I went.
And I wasn't too happy to go.
I was to appear on a Tuesday and on the
Monday before I spent 13 hours in a car driving home
from Atlanta. I was tired. I was cranky. I was ready
to sentence someone to death. Even if it was just a
At precisely 8:30 AM I was one of 100 jurors
to be selected to drown in the first jury pool of the day.
Imagine my delight when I learned that the trial would
be the death penalty sentencing phase for an already
convicted murderer. You mean, I may actually be able
to sentence someone to death after all?! To quote
Stimpy--or is it Ren?--"Joy!"
I liked the judge. He was Dick Cheney-esque.
He explained in dad-like tones the facts of the case
and the difference between aggravating and mitigating
circumstances. If memory serves me--and it rarely
does--"he killed a woman with a knife" is an
aggravating circumstance, while "you shouldn't put
him to death because he's close to his mother" is
a mitigating factor. (Yes, that was floated as a
real-live mitigating factor. I think I may have actually
laughed out loud on that one.)
The judged then introduced us to various people
in the court. It was a bit like being at a rock concert.
"And now I'd like you to meet the band. On drums,
the prosecutor...on bass, the defense attorney."
But, wow, oh, wow, I did not expect him to introduce the actual
murderer guy himself. There he was, sitting at the table,
wearing a suit that his lawyers no doubt bought for him,
looking more like a Mitsubishi salesman than a cold-blooded
killer. He turned to us and calmly said,
"Good morning." I half expected him to
make a toast. He was sitting three feet from me-- tops.
I mean, as a comic, I've killed before, but I've never,
you know, killed before. It was weird.
We were then informed that the trial would
last approximately three weeks, beginning at the end of
June. Since I am scheduled to be in Arizona during that
time, I knew that I would have to talk to the judge and
asked to be excused. Eighty or so of the jurors were
taken to another room to fill out questionaires and be
interviewed by the attorneys. I stayed behind with the
rest of the quivering masses awaiting our time with
One by one we were called to the bench.
We had the hot babe prosecutor on one side and the
two defense attorneys on the other. We were to give
our name and badge number and then tell the judge why
we wouldn't be abe to serve.
"Well, your honor," I said somewhat
tentatively,"I'm a standup comic,"
All four of them started laughing.
I turned to the prosecutor and said,
"It's worse than telling people you're an
The judge said, "Miss Skene, we could
use a little levity in this court. Is there any chance
we could make you a better offer?"
I explained my situation, he acknowledged possible
financial hardship and then we just chatted a bit.
I can't remember the exact order of the conversation but
I did learn that the prosecutor used to be an actress, I
told them that being in court is far more intimidating
than being on stage, someone suggested that I could get
material out of the situation and then I was asked if I
would be appearing locally in the near future. It was
all very pleasant.
Then I remembered that the murderer was
sitting only a few feet behind me. What must he have
been thinking? This was the beginning of his death penalty
sentencing phase and we're in the front of the court
making jokes. It certainly was surreal for me, I can
only imagine how surreal it must have been for him.
I mean, as a comic, I've died before, but I've never,
you know, died before.
Later that day, I was thrown into another
jury pool but wasn't picked for that one either. I drank
diet peach Snapple, read The Nanny Diaries (which
I found depressing) talked to some very nice strangers
and was out of there by 2:30. Except for the talking
to the strangers part, I probably would have just done
the same things at home. In other words, it could
have been worse.
It'll be three years until the state of
New Jersey can forcibly park my over-sized butt into
another jury room. Hopefully, by then, I will still
be a standup comic, which will ensure that I will never
be picked to serve as a juror. There's not a court in
the land who wants a comic in the juror's box.
Somtimes being misunderstood is a good thing.
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