A call to serve my community

by Christine on October 12th, 2010

filed under Christine's Life Updates

This weekend I got a letter in the mail. A jury summons. Not just any jury summons, of course. Grand Jury. And not just any Grand Jury! No! This is for Federal cases, in our State’s capitol.

I always get picked for jury duty. Always.

The first time I was on Jury Duty, I was in college and I was selected to be on a civil case. It was an AIDS malpractice suit.  There was a guy, we’ll call him Joe. He was a trainwreck of an individual, had every reason to believe he could have AIDS; he had unprotected sex with a huge number of people, and he was an intravenous drug user. He went to the public health clinic to get an HIV test. The results were positive. He immediately asked for a re-test, and the clinic told him that he needed to see a doctor for care at this point, and they refused to do a re-test on him. Now, you see, the health clinic does anonymous testing, so they don’t give him any paperwork that SAYS he’s positive; this was all done verbally back in the 1980s.  It’s part of the whole anonymity thing. So Joe goes to the public (free) doctor’s office and meets Doctor Idiot. He says, “Hey doc, I just got tested positive for HIV at the health clinic. I want to have a restest done please.”  Doctor Idiot does NOT do a re-test, and instead proceeds to treat Joe for HIV.  Keep in mind, Doctor Idiot never does his own test to prove that Joe has HIV at all; Doctor Idiot just immediately starts treating Joe for HIV.

Now, for 10 years or so, Joe thinks that he’s dying of HIV. Knowledge of this disease in the 80’s was speculative at best. He was in therapy to prepare him for eventual death. He became a raging alcoholic, eventually got a divorce from his wife. He lost his job because of being HIV positive and the stigma associated with it. But the one thing he always did was attend the support groups. After 10 years, one of the girls in the group noticed that Joe never really looked worse, whereas all the other patients did, their health failing. This female friend asked to see Joe’s bloodwork paperwork. She was a bit smarter than Joe, you see. She looked at his White T-Cell counts and noticed that they steadily increased over the years, instead of decreased the way that should be expected with HIV.  She convinced Joe to see a new doctor, who did perform a re-test; Joe discovered that he didn’t have HIV at all.

In Doctor Idiot’s defense, he called in some HIV doctor expert with a <very dramatic moment here in the courtroom> a NINETY PAGE RESUME related to HIV treatment cases.  <everyone ooh and ah please> This doctor claims that in the 1980s, it was the standard of care to not do a re-test and just start treating for HIV.

I personally call bullshit. I don’t care if you lived in the 1700s, you don’t walk into the doctor’s office and say, “Yo doc, I think I have a broken arm” and the doctor just throws a cast on you for the hell of it. No way.  And CERTAINLY that kind of shit didn’t happen in a modern-medicine, civilized society.  The 1980s may seem like a long time ago for some people, but it was really not very long ago at all in the grand scheme of medicine. The standard of care certainly didn’t change that dramatically in the last 20-30 years.

In the end, after a week of trial and 36 hours of jury deliberation (literally, the judge LOCKED us in the courthouse and made us stay there, not letting us go to home to sleep or anything, until we reached a verdict) eventually we were a hung jury. There were a few holdouts on either side of the fence that were unable to be pursuaded differently. The case was dropped, poor Joe went home without an ounce of recompense.

This was not the last time I was on jury duty. Two years ago I got summoned for Grand Jury Duty for my local County.  Jury duty lasted six weeks and involved 2-3 days per week, very sporadic in terms of scheduling. I were basically “on call” at their whim.  Grand Jury doesn’t decide whether someone is guilty or innocent; the Grand Jury just listens to the District Attorney present his case and determines if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.

I was on Grand Jury with a bunch of fucking nitwits. They were sheep, bored, didn’t want to be there. They said “sure, send this case off to trial” for freaking EVERYTHING! There was one case that particularly pissed me off.

Saratoga Springs is a really whitebread town, especially in the summertime. The rich of the rich come to Saratoga to play. It’s full of country clubs, yachting regattas, polo clubs. There’s gambling, Ferrari car shows, the New York City ballet, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.  There’s a raging downtown, with maybe 40 bars and nightclubs, so there’s a popular night scene in the summertime, too.  The summertime sees a lot of Mexicans imported to work at the Race Track, at the stables and on cleanup duty, but that’s about as ethnically-diverse as the town gets.

The District Attorney called the cop to the stand to explain what he saw that night.  The Cop said that it was 2:00 in the morning in the summertime. He saw a black man and a black woman walking down one of the quieter streets of Saratoga and immediately got suspicious. He followed them. He then saw the black male throw something that “looked like a cigarette” into the bushes. The cop inspected it, and sure enough–it was marijuana!  The cop called for backup, and once the couple reached the main street in town, the cops apprehended him and found a large baggie of weed in the possession of the black male.

“So,” said the District Attorney, “Do we have enough evidence to go to trial?”

All my idiotic co-jurors raised their collective hands to send the prejudice-ladded case off to trial. I did not raise my hand. The Attorney kind of gave me a funny look, then asked the question again to get another count. Again, I did not raise my hand. This of course was a moot point; you don’t need to have an unanimous jury to send a case off to trail; majority rules just fine. Still, I think this D.A. was not used to hold-outs in his courtroom. In the following weeks when he presented a case, he spent several moments presenting evidence directly to me, looking right at me, or even standing right in front of where I sat. He was a clever guy, and I thought he was actually quite intelligent and likable, but that didn’t make me blind to outright cases of prejudice or idiocy like this particular instance.

One thing the D.A. did that I thought was extremely clever on his part, was he spent a few moments after each Grand Jury sitting to just hang out with us. “Ask me questions,” he said. “Whatever you want. What was my favorite case, do you have any questions about any legal issues? Fire away, you’ve got my ear.”  I enjoyed these moments with the D.A., and the questions that my fellow jurors asked were pretty interesting as well.  Remember, the D.A. is an elected position, and here the guy has 16 or 23 of his jurors stuck in the courtroom to listen to him; what better time to make friends with your constituents?  It was a good political move. Smart guy, but I suppose that’s why he made it to District Attorney.

This weekend I got yet another jury summons in the mail. Now, my time on Grand Jury for my County gets me out of any jury duty calls (within my county or municipality) for seven years; but that doesn’t count for Federal or State cases.  No indeed.  I have to go.  And I’m sure I’ll get chosen for Grand Jury Duty because I always get chosen for those things.  I’m a white woman, 32 years old, Masters Degree, no children or elderly family members to take care of, am not the proprietor of my own business, no reason why I can’t serve. Oh yeah, I’ll get chosen.

But here’s the rub: Grand Jury duty for State and Federal cases is a committment for…ONE YEAR.  Twelve full months, every other Thursday and Friday, all day long.  Oh it pays…$40 per day, plus mileage. Ha!

I think Jury Duty is pretty fascinating honestly, so for that reason I don’t mind the call to serve.  The problem is this: At some point, perhaps in three months or so, I’m going to need to look for another job. Especially if this writing thing doesn’t pan out.  What employer in their right mind will hire me, knowing that I have to take so much time off from work?  “Hi, I am looking for 40-hour pay plus full benefits, but I only will put in 32 hours worth of work in return, for the next 12 months.”   Riiiiiight.  There’s no way that I’ll find a job if this is the case.

Part of me wants to slam my head on my desk and shout “why me?” at the world. The other part of me wonders if this is all part of some kind of cosmic plan to enable me to write. I mean think about it, if I wanted to really write full-time and dedicate myself to this new kind of self-employment-without-pay, then this Grand Jury duty really wouldn’t interfere with that at all.

You know how the other day I was asking for some kind of sign, if this new life decision is meant to be?  Is this the sign I was looking for?  Or is this some kind of huge cosmic joke on my behalf?

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  • Libby

    I’m going with option #2. I think this is a clear sign that you are supposed to commit yourself to writing for a year. 3 months is not enough time to produce your first piece. And who knows, the experience might even give you some creative ideas or characters to incorporate into your story. I love it. I believe the Universe throws things into our path to enable us to grow and become our best selves as long as we don’t get in our own way.


  • Dr. Fatty

    I’m pretty sure you can’t control Jury duty. Just role with the punches. Yes it sucks, but you never know what experience you’ll have. It may be your best seller waiting to happen.

  • spunkysuzi

    I have to agree that i think using the next year for your writing and doing the jury duty will be time well spent!

  • Allanmklein

    Come on over for your award !!!

  • Amandakiska

    I’ve been called for jury duty three times (including Federal) and NEVER had to report! That sounds like a HUGE commitment.

  • http://twitter.com/Mrs_Happy_Pants Mrs. Happy Pants

    I don’t know, dude (dudette?).
    Sounds to me like you may be getting an extension on the time you gave yourself to try writing full time. Divine intervention???
    By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog. I kept wondering if it was “Phoenix Revolution Christine” or some other Christine. Because Blogger sucks in many ways…But when you spoke about your grandmother, I realized it WAS you. Awesome.

  • Debbie

    Christine, I just finished 4 weeks on a grand jury in Manhattan, in which 95% of the defendants were black/hispanic and lived in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country; whereas the jury had no black people on it, 3 Latinos (2 of whom didn’t speak enough English to know what was going on); 11 out of 23 lived in zip codes which are on the list of 100 richest zips in the US. The jurors thought they were working for the DA, not the judiciary. They also repeatedly said, “Oh, don’t worry: a trial jury will take care of this. Let’s get moving. We’re in a hurry.” I complained twice to the charging ADA and finally went before the judge on my second to last day. I told him I felt I’d been degraded, along with my fellow jurors, by participating in an undemocratic, racist process. We indicted EVERY one of our cases. What, then, is the point of having a Grand Jury if every defendant is indicted?