Sunday, February 06, 2022

Jury Duty in the Time of Covid (a case for pessimism)

When I received a jury summons last March, it was particularly unwelcome. It's not like most people look forward to jury duty, but in the middle of a pandemic where we'd spent a year working from home, where our son spent all of first grade on an iPad in his bedroom, and where we'd not gone pretty much anywhere, the thought to going to a courthouse and being around a bunch of strangers in an enclosed assembly room was worrying. This was prior to vaccines being widely available, and way before our child would be eligible for that.

So I postponed my service as far out as I could (five months) to August.

By then my wife and I had been fully vaccinated. While the state of Covid in our area wasn't as bad then,  again, our son was not yet so I postponed it a second time, again the five months I could. By the first week of February 2022 we were hopeful he'd be vaccinated and the pandemic should be in a much better state. 

Oh, how quaint we were. Well, at least our son got his shots, but Omicron made February arguably worse than August would have been.

Having used my two postponements, when last week rolled around I had no choice. Each night I'd need to check the jury website and see if I was required to report to the court the next morning. The last time I'd had a summons, a few years ago, I lucked out and went the whole week without getting called in. However, this time I was convinced I would not be so lucky. I not only believed I'd get called in but that I'd end up actually on a case that would last days. It just seemed like that's what karma would have in store for me for two postponements.

The first night I checked... and I did not need to report. One down.

The second night I checked... and I did need to report the next day. Eh, at least it didn't drag me out to the Friday.

The court in question (in downtown L.A.) didn't require us to show up until 10 a.m., so that made it such that traffic wouldn't be bad. There was at least that. I had my iPhone and AirPods and lots of podcasts; I packed a new book I'd gotten for Christmas; I had two bottles of water. I was ready for the day.

The number of prospective jurors called in were such that we could socially distance and sit with several seats between people. Masks were required, of course. Obviously the court employees were dealing with this daily and had measures in place as well as they could. Still, for me this was the first time I'd spent being in a room with this many people since before lockdown in March of 2020. 

I wasn't freaking out; as noted, I had resigned myself to this fate before the week even started. But my wife is immunocompromised and if somehow I did contract the virus through being in a courtroom and brought it home to her there was no telling what effect it might have (even being fully vaccinated and boosted). And if our son caught it he'd have to miss school, and his school had been fortunate to have very few cases and none in his class.

But I do believe in doing my civic duty (I had served on juries in the past, many years ago), so I sat there in the assembly room with my KN95 on. I listened to a podcast, then stopped while the clerk took attendance (where everyone merely raised their hand; nobody spoke), and afterward read the introduction to the book. Then the clerk said we could have a 20-minute break... even though we hadn't really done anything yet. I sat and kept reading, then used the restroom toward the end (and there was no one else in the men's room at the time). Then back to my seat and more reading, and waiting.

As it got closer to the noon lunch break I figured it was unlikely we'd get called to a courtroom just before that and suspected we'd get a longer break. Then the clerk called our attention and noted that the judge was coming down. She explained that for distancing reasons the initial process took place in the assembly room. I then pieced together that we weren't waiting to see if we'd get called to a case; we were already assigned to a case when we'd been told to report, and the only question would be which 12 would be selected (or not dismissed) by the attorneys.

The judge came in and addressed us from the front of the room, thanking us for coming in, especially given the circumstances.

He then told us the parties had just settled and the case would not be going to trial, and we would be dismissed as soon as the clerks got the paperwork ready.

While this was not quite as good as if I hadn't needed to report at all, it was about as good as it could get. I only had to sit in the room (with no one talking) for about an hour and a half, merely long enough for one podcast and the introduction to the book. I didn't even bother to crack open one of the bottles of water I'd brought. We were released and I was back to my car in the parking garage across the street before noon, and so I didn't even have to endure the late afternoon traffic leaving downtown.

Some people say one should think optimistically. I offer this as evidence that expecting the worst has its benefits. But only if one can truly be pessimistic; unlike how a jury can be manipulated, karma is not faked out by pretending.

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