1974

In 1974 terms of jury duty in Los Angeles County were 30 days.

(11/18/1974) Jury Assembly Room #302.  There are approximately 200 of us.  The process of signing in and presenting causes for dismissal is continuing.

The assembly room is large, and cold.  The seating is plentiful and comfortable.

Jigsaw puzzles, Reader's Digest, a television (which I fear will soon be spouting soap operas), plastic palm trees, potted plants, framed posters ("Milestones of Industrial Progress," "State Birds of the U.S." etc.), and newspaper clippings (all about court) pinned to a bulletin board.

The people are quiet; 75% are over 40.  It's possible that I'm the youngest (27) person here.

I found out later that some jurors are allowed to come in later.  After all had arrived, our number reached 300 or greater and the room was quite full.

At 10:15 a.m. the judge (Rafael H. Galceran) spoke to us about preliminary matters.  He spoke for over an hour and then we were sent back to the assembly room.  There, a jury (prospective) of about 40 was chosen and the rest of us were released for lunch.

After lunch I chose a seat near the front of the room.  I soon found myself in the middle of a crochet circle.  Two women were teaching five others.

At 2:00 p.m., 34 names were called; mine was not one of them.  And so I sat and tried to read amidst the constant chatter of the crocheters.

At 2:45 p.m., another jury was chosen and my name was called - a civil case on the fifth floor.

I really wanted to get on a jury.  I was now among 34 people of whom, 12 would finally be chosen.  The judge (Newell) explained the case briefly and then names were drawn randomly from a box.  Mine was the sixth called.

The lawyers, in turn, questioned the chosen jurors to weed out any who may have unfavorable biases.  The defense lawyers made copious notes on each juror on a prepared pad and carefully asked questions to learn of any experience that we have had that might influence our decision.  While the defense was questioning, the plaintiff's lawyer stared at his notes and seemed to ignore the defense questioning.

When his turn came, though, we were in for quite a surprise.  He stood before us without notes and one-by-one he addressed us by name and asked rapid-fire leading questions that both served to plead his case and instruct us as to the conduct we should observe.

It was a tour de force of courtroom cliches, and he found room for a few well-timed jokes also.  I looked at the judge a couple of times during this speech, but he showed no sign of annoyance or approval.

We were dismissed for the day before any of us were challenged by the lawyers.  I won't be surprised if I am challenged because I told them my father was a truck driver, same as the plaintiff.  One lady actually admitted that she was afraid of truck drivers.

(11/19/1974) The case was settled by the time I arrived.  One of the jurors did not show up.  He was found later playing cards in the assembly room.  I never did learn what that was about.  No other jurors were called for the day.  I managed to make my way through 60 pages of Gulag Archipelago.  Tomorrow - Kerouac.

(11/20/1974) This morning when the first call for a jury was made, I kept count.  Forty names were called.  Later they called 30 more to choose two alternate jurors.  I was one of the 30, but was not chosen as alternate.  The trial was scheduled to last 60 days.

Three women work in an office in the assembly room.  They occasionally speak to us via the intercom.  They are all young and attractive.  They must feel like babysitters.

I read 70 pages of On the Road before we were dismissed at 3:00 p.m.

(11/21/1974) Nine of the original 30 were left in the selection of an alternate juror.  At 10:00 a.m. they were all called back to the courtroom.  One at a time they returned during the morning.  There was relief on the face of all who were dismissed.  One man was dismissed because his family doctor was a witness.  A lady was challenged for cause but they would not tell her why.

Each sought others from the panel when they returned to the assembly room.  One man was sure that he was dismissed because he was a southerner.  Another claimed that he was dismissed because he said his hobbies were fishing and drinking beer.  Finally one lady returned and said that the final juror had been chosen.

(11/22/1974) At 2:00 p.m., 50 jurors were called.  Shortly thereafter 35 more were called including me.

This was my first exposure to a criminal case.  The initial twelve jurors were chosen and questioning began.  This time the judge did much of the preliminary questioning.  One of the jurors was an Oklahoma cowboy who admitted that he was once brought into court as a defendant because he punched a man in an argument about an Oklahoma-Nebraska football game.  He had pleaded "no contest" and was fined $100.

The judge was quite amused with the Okie and made a few jokes about Oklahoma.  The court broke into laughter a few times, but I noticed one person who did not enjoy the humor - the defendant.

One of the jurors was dismissed because she admitted that she could not be impartial in a kidnapping case because of an incident that occurred with her mother.  The judge thanked her for her honesty.

After the questioning, the lawyers were asked if they had any challenges.  The prosecuting attorney said that "the people will accept this jury."  The defense lawyer dismissed juror number nine, a lady who works as a social case worker, and another was seated in her place.  The judge stopped the proceedings at this time and said that "we are nowhere near the completion of the jury selection."  Court was adjourned until 10:00 a.m. Monday.

(11/25/1974) I'm on the jury.  I had thought that the prosecution was going to make no challenges, but I was wrong.  "The prosecution will thank and excuse juror number two ..." - a 20-year-old gas station mechanic with long hair.

Four more jurors were excused: the prosecution excused the Okie and a mailman who had friends on the police force; the defense dismissed a man who had once been robbed and kidnapped, and a woman.  The lawyers accepted the jury, me included, and an alternate was selected.

The first witness called was the victim of the alleged kidnapping.  Her story was very convincing.  After her testimony, the judge requested that the lawyers file their respective theories with him and then dismissed the court for the day (12:00 noon), because the defense lawyer had requested the afternoon off.

(11/26/1974) The prosecution called a lady who worked at an employment office, two policemen and a gas station attendant.  All of them agreed with the story told by the victim.  The defense called the defendant to the stand.  He was not very convincing.  He denied ever seeing the victim.  He told a story of what he did that day and contradicted himself many times.  The judge pointed out one absolute lie that the defendant did not attempt to correct.

There were many times during the day that the jury was sent to the jury room and each time we were instructed not to talk about the case.  For this reason, the topics of discussion were interesting: shopping centers, perfumes, Las Vegas, a blonde, other trials and television shows.  The conversations, generally, were strained.  The only thing on my mind was this case.  I suppose it was the same with the others.

(11/27/1974) I am not feeling very well now.  I have just returned from having given a guilty verdict in a criminal case.  It has affected me and I'm glad that it did.  It is not something to be taken lightly.

The defense called two witnesses who had seen the defendant on that day.  Both of them gave testimony that conflicted with that of the defendant the day before.  Both lawyers gave us their summaries.  The defense lawyer tried very hard to convince us that there was a doubt as to the defendant's guilt.  I think that the defense lawyer did a very good job considering the circumstances.  I would not hesitate to have him defend me.  We were instructed by the judge and sent to deliberate.

In the jury room we attempted to find a possible route of innocence for the defendant.  But, every attempt was refuted with ease.  Only two of the jurors showed an ignorance of the facts in the case.  But even they reached the right verdict, in spite of the facts.  We voted twice and each time it was 12-0.  He was guilty.

While waiting to be called back into the courtroom, a few of the jurors began talking and laughing about other subjects.  How could they laugh?  Are they insensitive?  Are they detached?

During the trial, the defendant had acted cordially, never showing emotion.  During his testimony, he was as calm as anyone could be in that situation.  But, as he awaited the verdict, he bent his head toward the table and closed his eyes.  I watched him as the verdict was read.  At the word "guilty," he jerked his head and quavered some, but he did not look around.

(11/29/1974) No jurors were selected. We were dismissed at 11:30 a.m. (the day after Thanksgiving).

(12/2/1974) Today we got 70 or 80 new jurors.  The room is crowded again.  Two panels were called.  I wait.

(12/5/1974) I have not been called for a panel for four days now.  We have averaged one panel a day.  The changeover is complete.  The old jurors have left and the new are settled.  I'm in the middle.

A strange thing about the television and its viewers: someone will turn it on in the morning and select a channel.  Nobody ever changes it.  One day it's all soap operas and one day it's reruns.  Lately it's been game shows ad nauseum.  I prefer to read.

The jurors in the assembly room: 1. card players; 2. televiewers; 3. readers; 4. knitters; 5. gabbers; 6. wanderers; 7. sleepers; 8. loners; 9. puzzlers; 10. the guy who waers a blue C&R suit and walks around looking for magazines to thumb through - I drew a map.

(12/10/1974) I was called on a panel today, but they didn't even let us sit down.  They waited ten minutes and then sent us back.

(12/11/1974) I'm finally on another jury; probably my last.  They only called 30 of us for this panel.  They're getting short of jurors.  I was the first juror called from the panel.  The interrogation of the jury was going well until the man next to me mentioned that he had been in an accident with two "colored" people.  Both the plaintiff and his attorney are black.

I happened to be looking at the lawyer who gave a jerk at the word "colored."  After further questioning, the juror admitted that he could not be impartial in this case.  The lawyers simultaneously stipulated that the juror be dismissed for cause.  The judge agreed and thanked the juror for his honesty.  Before this scene, both lawyers had been careful to ignore the possibility of prejudice.  But now, the black lawyer went into a tirade (filibuster?), sending long repetitive questions at the replacement juror - questions meant for the entire jury.  He made it plain that he wanted any other prejudiced jurors to surrender themselves.

I saw the court reporter heave and sigh and glance hopelessly at the bailiff.  The judge, the defense lawyer and everyone in the court were becoming uneasy as the speech continued.  When the lawyer for the plaintiff was finally finished with a juror, the defense lawyer seized upon that opportunity to become the "good guy" by making small jokes and keeping his questions short.  It was a relief.

Besides the bigot, two jurors were challenged: a woman whose child had had a similar accident and a man who was a third-year law student.  Jury selection continues tomorrow.

(12/12/1974) I got bumped off the jury by the defense lawyer.  It was really a surprise.  Later one of the other jurors came up to me and said that she was shocked that I had been bumped.

At 3:30 p.m. a panel was called that almost emptied the room.  There were 14 of us remaining.  I don't think there will be enough for a panel tomorrow.

(12/13/1974)  There were only 14 of us in the jury assembly room this morning.  As soon as some other jurors returned from a case, a panel was chosed.  The room was emptied.

Judge Bell is a long-winded, slow-talking man.  He spoke to us for 90 minutes and managed to ask one question each of the 12 jurors.  During his speech, he mentioned that court officials sometimes work during noontime and until 6:00 p.m.  The court reporter glanced at the ceiling and heaved a sigh at the mention of the extra work.  The judge told us to return at 9:30 a.m. Monday and wait outside the courtroom.

(12/16/1974) We arrived at 9:30 a.m.  At 10:00 a.m. we were given a coffee break.  At 10:45 a.m. we were allowed into the courtroom.  The lawyers and the court reporter went to the judge's chambers for a discussion on the record.  At 11:30 a.m. the bailiff came out with our packet of juror's names.  He began a conversation with the defendant that seemed to indicate to me that the case would be thrown out.  At 11:45 a.m. the judge came out and dismissed us.  No reason was given, but there was speculation that it was because 12 of the 26 prospective jurors had just come from a case involving a defendant with exactly the same last name.

The new jurors have arrived.  I'm a lame duck.

(12/17/1974) Last day - freedom and back to work.