Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Freeman Justice Center

I was called to serve as a juror in Monroe County one recent Monday, and a most enlightening experience it was too. I had never served previously owing to a lack of this or that in my life, citizenship, stability ("out sailing" leaves the mails far behind), but my civic duty caught up to me finally. I was last called just as Hurricane Ike was barrelling down on the Keys and the Justice system shut down for a week excusing all potential jurors. I felt deprived as I have always wanted to observe up close the lynch pin of Anglo Saxon justice, the jury of one's peers.I missed the public tour of the Freeman Justice Center when it opened last year so this was also my opportunity to see the inside of the building that replaces the venerable and rather tatty building that currently sits between the Freeman Center and Whitehead Street. There was of course some controversy about the structure, an arcane debate over what sort of exrterior decoration was suitable for a building that represents stability and dignity in town and the end result, the more expensive result looks quite good, even from the rear on Thomas Street: However, like Gilbert and Sullivan's Lord High Executioner I have a little list, and in the event we get a revolution and a people's tribunal I would put, in descending order, architects, bankers and lawyers on my little list. The Freeman Center reinforces my prejudice not least because the architect forget to create a security area so the 250 jurors lined up around the block, and stood in the sun while the head of the line did the usual ridiculous removal of all dignity along with belts, buckles and water bottles. I don't think they took down one potential juror as a threat as we stood and waited and waited and waited. Then when we got past security we had to squish in the lobby like sardines waiting for the elevator and we couldn't take the stairs because there aren't any! To walk to the upper levels the stairway is outside the building which is beyond the security apparatus...Then one of the two elevators wasn't working in the brand new building which just made the whole approach to jury duty one more painful sardine experience.We went through the process of whittling people in front of Judge Taylor and as I sat in the room I heard a bunch of great excuses about why people should be excused their civic duty. The loudest laugh was reserved for the man who stood up and said he cooked lunch for the homeless and they wouldn't get lunch if he was in court. He didn't get excused. I sat and waited and read my novel and was wondering if I would ever get selected. In the event I was in the middle of the second group of twenty selected for a battery trial to be heard before Judge Miller. The second round of the selection process was heard downstairs before my main man Tegan Slaton who was seated after winning the recent election by two votes (mine and my wife's). His opponent is suing for a new go round and votes are being scrutinized in court so he may or may not stay in his $150,000 judicial seat. I did not get selected of course. My wife (the former public defender) thinks the prosecution eliminated me as being too smart, I think the Judge eliminated me for being a wiseass (I was a bit wordy on my answers, not a surprise I suppose). It couldn't possibly have been the defense worried about my place of employment. And suddenly I was free to go and sit in the sun.I find it tedious that everyone wants to get out of jury duty. I understand that losing money is a drag and God knows getting up at 7:30am to the sound of an alarm is tough for someone on my schedule, but without jurors there would a very unpleasant legal system to deal with. A friend of mine in Italy is sitting on the murder trial of the century in the city of Perugia. A young American from Seattle, stuying in Umbria, stands accused of murdering a fellow student from Great Britain in a blooody sex triangle which has titillated the press to distraction. Irene is described a "popular judge" which in Civil Law (known to some as Napoleonic Law) is the equivalent of a juror in the Anglo Saxon system. However she is one of six civilians working with one judge to figure out the truth in her tangled web of sex and lies and death. The system we live under is a much better separated system of justice in my opinion, with lawyers to prosecute and defend, juries to decide, judges to sentence. In Civil Law all parties work together to figure out what really happened so the adversarial pursuit of legal loopholes as happens in the US doesn't taint the truth. In fact I would rather be defended by an advocate than sold down the river by a bunch of legal geniuses working together to figure out what they think really happened. So I feel an obligation not to whine when called for jury duty. I stand ready to do my bit, for fifteen dollars a day. Erk. And no one is exempt. No one is exempt: unless they are hard of hearing, self employed charter boat captains suffering through the worst season in living memory, don't speak much English, have a condition that doesn't allow them to concentrate, are pregnant, or it turns out happen to work in the Police Department. I was hoping I might get selected on this round because none of the trials was scheduled to last more than a day and the next round I was told, included a potentially month long trial, an event that would try the patience of the most civic minded jury applicant. This is the original Monroe County Courthouse, typical of Southern solidity:I have since discovered that the big hitting trial is supposed to be Key West's most recent murder, an event that occurred two years ago, I feel safe in assuming that's one long assed jury event I could not possibly be called to serve on as I was working when the murder was discovered.I think from here on out I shall enjoy the Freeman Justice Center in passing like the tourist above, but not I hope like this: Perhaps I should expand the Lord High Executioner's list of people who should be removed as societal annoyances:
As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list- I've got a little list...
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs —
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat —
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that —
And all third persons who on spoiling tête-á-têtes insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!
Add jurors to the list and let's get back to cutting off heads on a potentate's whim.