by JIM KNIPFEL
September 2, 2012
Justice is Blind, Almost
Maybe they were trying to give me the nudge from day one but I simply didn’t notice. On Friday, July 20th, I received my jury duty summons. It had been a long time coming, so it was no real surprise. What’s more, I didn’t mind at all. Unlike most Americans who bitch and groan endlessly about it, I kind of like jury duty. I once had a friend who was a court officer who was always offering to get me off the hook, but I inevitably turned him down. Why would I want to miss out on free entertainment like that? I’m never there long—the moment I start answering questions they ask me to go home. Guess it serves me right for being the honest sort. But I have fun, and there’s that forty dollar check at the end. I could use that about now.
I couldn’t read any of the details printed on the card, so I had to wait a couple of days until Morgan came over and read it to me. “Oh,” she said as she read it. “Says here you’re expected to report at eight-thirty on the morning of the thirteenth.”
“Ten days ago, you mean.”
This sort of thing happens to me a lot, it seems. So the next morning when I was more or less sober I called over to the Brooklyn Supreme Court building and explained my little predicament. Not having yet perfected time travel, I was going to have a hard time getting there at the appointed hour.
The woman on the other end of the phone was quite understanding. All I needed to do was come on August eighth instead, go to a certain office, and tell my story to the woman at the window. She’d give me another card, and I’d be good to go. Everything was fine.
The first hint that it was going to be a day cropped up after I stepped off the train at Court Street on my way to the Supreme Court building. It had been a few years since I’d been over there. I knew one of the subway exits would spit me out at the bottom of the courthouse steps. The other opened up onto Montague Street some ways away and a bitch of a trip back for a blindo. Thing was, I was no longer sure which was which. Best thing to do while still on the platform, I figured, was ask someone and get my bearings. But the folks down there, I’ll tell you, they’re a busy bunch. No time for cripples in their crazy schedule. Finally a young man behind me said “I can help you.”
“Oh, great,” I said. “Thanks. Now which way do I go here to get to the courthouse?” There were two choices, forward or back.
“Ahh,” he said. “I’m afraid I don’t know. I’m a tourist from Poland.”
“A tourist from Poland,” I said.
“So why in the hell did you say you could help me?”
I was starting to understand all those Polack jokes I grew up with. Nevertheless, this Polish tourist led me to the stairs. Any stairs. And I was on my way, perhaps even in the right direction.
As I stepped out of the subway station, a woman, without my asking, led me into the courthouse. She passed me on to a security guard, and the guard led me downstairs to the office I was told to visit. It was an odd and open room that felt like the DMV, except I was the only one there. I was dropped in front of a window at a long counter. A middle-aged woman sat on the other side of the bullet-proof glass.
“Hello,” I said. I slid the jury summons under the glass. “Now, here’s what happened, see?”
I laid it all out for her and when I was done she was quiet for a moment.
“Is, ah, there something wrong with your eyesight?” she asked.
“Why yes,” I told her. “I mean, I’m blind.” (Again, I should learn not to be so honest in a courthouse.)
There was another long pause. “Are . . . ah, you sure you really want to do this?”
At that point I could have gone two ways. I could have given her a little speech about the responsibility of citizenship and what America means to me, or I could have asked her if I’d still get that forty dollars if I went home. Instead I just said, “Yup.”
She excused herself and went away for a few minutes. When she returned, she told me to take a seat. Someone would be down in a minute to lead me up to the jury room.
I thanked her, took my seat, and waited. About fifteen minutes later a door beside me opened and a small, gray, soft-spoken judge appeared and asked my name. Instead of leading me upstairs, however, he took a seat next to me.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “See, you give us a little problem, here.”
Before long, the woman who ran the jury pool and a court officer had been called in to discuss the matter. I simply can’t step foot into a courtroom, it seems, without official types having some kind of conference about it. I sat there quietly as they debated the issue. Although the word was left unspoken, it was clear the problem was one of liability. What happened if I skinned my knee while I was there? Or fell down an elevator shaft while unattended?
I assured them I would be fine, and was presented with two options. I could go ahead and serve that day, or I could go away for six months or so and wait until I had someone who could come along to help me. They were keeping their fingers crossed for the latter, since they might very well be dead by the time I came back. Problem for them was that I needed that forty dollars now.
“Well,’ I said. “I’m here now, so why not just do it?”
With heavy sighs, the other two left as the woman who ran the program led me up to the jury room. She was a very friendly and curious woman, all full of questions about blindo life in New York. Before entering the room, though, she stopped. “I seriously doubt you’re going to be called today. It’s summer, and things are pretty quiet.”
Simply translated, this meant that she was going to put my card in a special pile all by itself far, far away from all the other jury cards, because there was no way in hell they were going to let me get picked for a jury. To drive this home, when we entered the room she walked me past all the benches, around a corner, into the lounge, and sat me down in a chair right outside her office.
“If you need anything at all today,” she told me. “All you need to do is knock on my door, okay?”
So there I sat for the next seven hours. I spent the rest of the day feeling like I was waiting to see the principal after pasting that asshole on the playground smack in the kisser. Assorted administrators stopped by regularly to ask after my general well-being and to make sure I didn’t need anything. I didn’t. None of the names called over the new and clear sound system came even remotely close to mine.
Shortly before four, the woman who ran the program stepped out of her office and bent down. “Now,” she whispered. “In a few minutes the court officer is going to tell all of these people that they can go home. They’re going to be very happy about this, but I want you to stay put. I’m going to go print out your certificate of service first, and then I’m going to get you out of the building.”
“Just like Elvis.”
And sure enough, thirty seconds after the announcement was made, she handed me a certificate in an envelope, grabbed my arm, and ran me up the aisle past all those other poor, sighted fuckers who had to sit there and wait like saps.
She not only got me out of the building, but down the stairs, across the courtyard to the subway entrance, down those stairs, and through the turnstiles far away from city property before letting me go.
The final joke is that my certificate makes me exempt from jury duty for two years longer than most people. Nice as everyone was, I get the idea they just want to make sure however they can that they won’t have to deal with me ever again.
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