Just use us, or send us home

by Gale Holland

... Continued from frontpage

The final straw was when the judge asked if we would like to donate our $5-a-day jury pay to one of several charities -- including the court operating fund! My silent response: Why would I want to contribute to your folly?

Jurors are intelligent. We understand waits are inevitable in our court system. Most of us also came to believe the massive amount of waiting that goes on in the L.A. jury assembly room is both ridiculous and avoidable.

Disorganization and disregard

The system appears to be riddled with disorganization and a disregard for the people it snags.

Jurors by and large are busy people. Many are beeped all day by anxious employers who want them back. Others leave court for their offices, where they struggle into the night to keep up with their assignments.

Most of us don't want more money, although don't try to kid us with a "one-way" mileage reimbursement. We just want to be used or sent home. It's that simple. Why are hundreds of jurors kept cooling their heels until 5 p.m. when the clerk has known since noon only 50 of them will be called?

Any why are some jurors called back every year, while others haven't received a summons for a decade?

After two days of waiting in vain for my name to be called, I transferred to Traffic Court, where the clerk told us we couldn't go on a telephone call-in system because the office wasn't computerized. Yet the county found money to chase down no-shows. I heard at least five or six jurors say they will tear up the next jury summons that lands in their mailbox because of the long assembly room vigils.

Gale Holland

Finally, I was called on to serve on a misdemeanor gun brandishing and threat case. Jurors traded tips on what to say to get on a panel -- and how to get off.

Bumped into irritation

We got irritated when friends were bumped -- and from the juror's vantage point it often seems the lawyers go after the smart, fair-minded people. I question whether lawyers know a good juror when they see one. Does attending paralegal school -- but never working in the legal field -- really make you a tougher sell for one side or the other? From talking to some of our rejects, I think both the defense or prosecution dumped people that would have helped them.

Appalled by lawyers

Once the case started, we were impressed with the judge and appalled by the lawyers. They seemed more interested in trying to mislead us than in presenting a coherent case. For example, the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the defendant as "kicking down" a door when in fact she kicked on a door. Did she think we wouldn't notice? Deliberations were much longer than they should have been because we had to put the lawyers' cases together for them.

The actual deliberations process was one of the best experiences I've had in years. Every juror had unique perspectives and insights. We worked hard, and with conscience. Even though it was only a misdemeanor case, several jurors had sleepless nights.

Our positions at times broke down along racial lines, but not necessarily our votes. For example, a number of African-American women and white men came into the process leaning toward not guilty -- but for very different reasons.

I left jury service a big fan of the unanimous verdict. Early on, we reached a 9-3 vote. But as we pressed on for consensus, the prosecution's case literally began to unravel before my eyes -- and I was one of the jurors favoring guilt.

In the end, we returned a verdict of not guilty on all four counts. L.A. juries may be scorned across the country, but the panel I served on reaffirmed my faith in the common sense, intelligence and decency of the people of our city.