Monday, August 4, 2008

15 minutes after waking, Offlede makes it to court for jury duty

This is the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Justice Center in Viera.

As if my days since returning from Washington weren't busy enough, I was summoned for jury duty this morning in Viera.

After working until 2 a.m., a 6:30 wake time for the 8 o'clock appearance was sure to exacerbate my current state of exhaustion. It wasn't until 3:30 that I went to bed last night.

But instead of awaking to my alarm clock, I was startled to consciousness by the sound of my temporary roommate jumping into the shower. I looked at the clock: 7:47. Oh, crap.

My alarm surely didn't work. I don't remember hitting it around 6:30. I still don't know what happened.

I leaped from my futon-bed, thinking about appropriate dress for the courthouse. The summons said business attire would be acceptable, meaning a shirt and a tie. But I knew that most everyone in Brevard County doesn't own a tie, and I didn't think it was necessary. But I tied one on anyway - extremely quickly. Two minutes after waking up, I was on my way to the Moore Justice Center.

I broke the law a few times on my way to court: I was doing at least 15 mph over the limit, and I ran a few red lights, accidentally, of course.

I thought, as I sped down Wickham Road, one of the busiest streets in Melbourne, about the chances of me shirking my civic duty. Last night, I called a number and listened to a recording of jury duty instructions. It said to avoid bringing anything that could be used as a weapon and "the FLORIDA TODAY newspaper." As they say, the paper is mightier than the sword.

So if I couldn't bring the paper to read, they definitely wouldn't make me serve because I'm a journalist there, right? My co-workers also gave me a few other excuses to use: I have kids home alone; I'm so much smarter than most Brevardians, so I would never qualify to be in a jury of their peers; and I'm pregnant.

Fifteen minutes after waking, I was running through a metal detector, sans my shotguns and newspaper. I was two minutes late, but I made it there before many other fellow potential shirkers.

I sipped some hot chocolate with mini marshmallows as a court worker with a British accent asked us questions that, if answered in the affirmative, would disqualify or excuse us. There were two felons in the room, so they were released. There was a lady who was older than 70, but she said, "No, I want to do my duty." Gross, but OK: You're a good American.

But there was no "Does anyone work in the media?" question, so I was out of luck. The court worker told those left sitting to grab some coffee, dig in and look at the big world map painted on the wall. "It's a conversation piece," she said. "Try to find where Florida is."

Then came a sheriff's deputy and County Judge Alli B. Majeed.

For our troubles, Majeed, who is about 60 years old, promised us a hefty salary: $15 for the day. And he said he would personally throw in a "bag of goodies," too. "A bag of knowledge," he said.

He told us about the four-tier Florida court system. He explained the difference between jail and prison: Jail is local; prison is state or federal. And, he said, criminals are given sentences of one year and one day because that's the minimum period that qualifies them for state prison.

Majeed convinced us that jury duty was for our own good. As we were trying to get out of jury duty, there were thousands of people worldwide trekking trough jungles, swimming across rivers and boarding rafts to try to get into this country, to get into our position. Jury duty is a privilege, not a bother, and it's the citizens' way to check and balance the government.

The 110 prospective jurors gave the judge a warm round of applause as he bid them adieu. He's a classy guy.

It was then time to wait. "I got good at hurrying up and waiting in the military," said a guy sitting behind me. I got good in college, and I was in my prime today.

The British-accented worker then assigned us to a judge. She called my juror number, 511911, and commented on its congruity (my number definitely was the best). She assigned me to Majeed. Other people were assigned, then told they could leave and come back this afternoon. I was jealous of them.

But three U.S. News & World Report and two Conde Naste Traveler articles later, the worker said, "Everyone in Majeed's group, listen up. I'm about to make you very happy. ... He has resolved today's cases, and you are free to go. He thanks you for your service."

As I walked out of the courthouse after three hours of performing my civic duty, I had just one thought: It's a good thing I didn't wake up early to shower; that would have been such a waste of water and sleeping time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ha! cute story!