From My Post Road Window / Nicholas Troilo
Trial by Jury
One hundred came. They came from Stamford and Stratford, from Wilton and Westport, from Darien and Danbury, from Bridgeport and Bethel. Some came at 8 a.m. as they were instructed. Some came late. Most came by car. A few came by train. None came with an obvious sense of civic duty. All came with a summons.
By the time I arrived the room was nearly full. The clerk responsible for jury management called out instructions. She spoke in a friendly, practiced tone with a comic twist. "If you parked in Bob's Furniture Store lot, you will be towed. If you parked in the lot of the condo next door, you will be towed. If you parked on the street you will not be able to leave the court to put money in the meter. You will be towed. If you parked in any parking lot other then the lot you were instructed to use, you will have to pay for your parking but you will be reimbursed. If you parked in the lot you were instructed to use, get in line. I'll validate your stub."
A queue formed. I sat. I waited, I read. I eavesdropped on conversations -- nothing interesting. I watched a woman working with a spreadsheet; another texting. A man played Brickbreaker on his Blackberry, another fiddled through the Tuesday crossword puzzle. Everyone played at something.
The jury manager announced that numbers would be assigned to each potential juror. Sticky tags would be distributed. "Going forward never say your name," the friendly voice said, "identify yourself only by your number."
The numbered tags were distributed. I became Juror No. 3. "Damn," I said, "I'll get called to the box." I began to plan my escape.
When all the 100 were tagged we were lined up in the hall, numerically, in preparation for the court room march. "Turn off all cells phones," said friendly voice. We obeyed. The pompous made grunts of annoyance, the texting addicts showed signs of withdrawal, the Blackberry-dependant twitched.
The berobed Judge Hall was an attractive, 40-something woman with the smile of a teenage girl who had just scored a goal for her convent school field hockey team. The attorneys smiled too. The plaintiffs and the defendants were poised for sobriety. Their counsel, I was sure, had directed them to look so. As we entered, each juror was sized as if at auction. I wanted to pick my nose, or belch aloud or scratch my crotch or do anything that would shout, "I'm not your man. Don't pick me."
Judge Hall got to business. She told us that on that day they would select two juries -- one for a trial that would begin on the following Monday; the other beginning later in the month and ending on April 26th. She asked any potential juror who had a problem with the dates to raise their hand. About 40 hands went up, mine, too. "I'm in Kansas City from April 23 until April 27. I can't be here," I said.
One by one we made our excuses. Judge Hall made a written note of each. I made mental notes and wondered if the judge and I would agree: real excuse for the tax accountant who couldn't sit as a juror during April tax filing time; lame excuse for the guy who said he managed a fund and needed to be in contact with his staff minute to minute each day.
From the 100, 16 potential jurors were called to the jury box. Jurors No. 1 and No. 2 were excused. I was called in. My mind raced. "I forgot to tell you I'm busy on Monday," I wanted to say, "plus our bedroom is being redecorated and I'm sleeping on the sofa in the family room next week. I won't be able to concentrate. And didn't you see me scratch? I'm not the respectable sort." But I couldn't and I didn't.
I was in the box. The judge, as is the practice in this court, grills the prospects. Judge Hall's questions were direct aimed at unearthing any point of view that might be prejudicial to either party in the case. The judge also wanted to be sure the jurors selected were capable of decision making.
After the judge's questioning the parties to the case had an opportunity, using the court's jargon, to "deselect." Eight jurors would be let go; eight jurors would remain. I remained. "Incredulous," I thought as I became Juror No. 1.
Juror No. 2 was a woman whom I had known for just about 20 years. She's a Dartmouth grad and a financial whiz-kid. Juror No. 3 was a nighttime security guard. Juror No. 4 was a woman who worked in the private investment field; Juror No. 5 -- a retired lawyer who specialized in intellectual property; No. 6 -- a medical technician; No. 7 -- an associate director from UBS; No. 8 -- a retired senior executive -- a Brit who became an American citizen. We were a highly educated, fairly affluent, Fairfield County bunch of eight.
We all left the court room in dismay. We faced the possibility of eight days of testimony, then deliberation -- a total disruption of our daily routines. We were to hear the case of Bailey and Dougherty v. AMF Bowling -- a sexual abuse case from events that occurred in the 1980s.
I wasn't enthusiastic about being a juror. I was, however, impressed by my very first, real-time glimpse of how the American system of trial by jury works and Judge Hall's process. And, in truth, despite the disruption in my life, I walked away with a sense of national pride. I remembered Annette Benning's line in the film, "The American President," "I'm proud to represent my country," she says when the fictional president asks her for a date.
For the first time, I had that same sense of civic pride. But on that Tuesday I didn't know what would be in store for me during the coming time of the trial -- a trial that changed my view of one of the most sensitive issues of our time.
Editor's Note: This is part one of a series by Nicholas Troilo.