A few weeks ago, Gwen called me at work:
You’ve got mail from the Sheriff.
And immediately I knew it was a Jury Summons.
So, today I reported to the BC Supreme Court. The first thing I noticed was that they weren’t really very friendly in how they handle prospective jurors. When I showed up at the 800 Smithe Street building and walked in the front door, I was confronted by a sea of people milling every which way. I stopped, looking at the various signs. There were signs pointing to elevators, to various courts and so on. Nothing said “juror” or “prospective juror” or anything like that. There was a desk in the centre of the lobby with a guy in full uniform being harassed by all manner of people. I wandered a little closer to that desk when the sheriff caught sight of a guy in a t-shirt and jeans who had entered just ahead of me and looked just as lost. The sheriff cut off the suit who was trying to talk to him and snapped “Jury duty? Fourth floor”.
The guy ahead of me looked at the sheriff, looked over his shoulder at me, and we slunk our way over to the block of elevators. And crammed ourselves onto the next car. Seriously? There were maybe 8 of us in the elevator and there was no room to breathe. I’m not sure if it was an elevator or a dumb waiter.
So, we arrived at the fourth floor and tumbled out into the hallway. And once again, we were completely lost. There were maybe 6 of us standing in a hallway that lead out into a nice atrium with a ceiling that was all skylights. If you’ve been at Robson Square, you know what I mean — and if not, the photo to the right (from Will Pate on Flickr) shows the atrium from below. Again, there were no signs. There were no people around to ask directions. As a group we wandered around, stumbling about as if we were trying to act out Brownian motion. Waaaaaay down the other end of the atrium, we spotted a kiosk and a cloud of people. As we were making our way down there, one of the sheriffs attending the kiosk bellowed at the hovering masses to form a line and have your papers ready. We hadn’t established that this is where we were supposed to be, but it seemed pretty likely so we fell into line too.
The floor was sticky. Really sticky. According the the older guy who was standing beside me in the line, it was the trees dripping sap onto the floor. And sure enough, he showed me one of the leaves and it seemed to be covered in dew … but the guy said it was sap. The floor was sticky enough that I believe him. We joked that it was to keep anyone from running away. It was *that* sticky.
Anyway, after getting our papers scanned in by a surly sheriff we were told to take a seat in the neighbouring lobby. This was fine for the first 20 or so people, but after that there were no more seats. As a result, most of us were left standing around or sitting on the stairs. For a half hour.
Eventually we were ushered into one of the court rooms. Second verse just like the first. The court room had 26 seats. We numbered 80 prospective jurors. We had people lined up against three walls of the court room, people standing along the rails separating the jury box from the rest of the court, people wedged into the doorway, people everywhere.
Next, one of the sheriffs explained the process. This was the first helpful information we had all morning. He explained that we were there to select the jury for A SINGLE TRIAL. 8 jurors. There were 80 of us there. Seemed a little excessive to me. And, oh, the trial is expected to last 5 days.
So, the process went like this: The lawyers came in, arranged all their books, laptops, gowns, etc. The judge entered the chambers and then explained the process to us again, reviewing what the sheriff had already told us. She told us a little bit of what the case was about (a car accident where the one party was allegedly injured and blamed the other driver … who denies fault). The lawyers were then told to read their witness list so that if any of the prospective jurors knew any of the parties involved, we could let the judge know. Then the court clerk drew names out of a box, reading names from each slip of paper. Eight names were called and these people went up to the side of the court beside the jury box. Next, each name was read out again, and this time each prospective juror had a chance to give the judge a reason why they couldn’t serve. If the judge accepted the reason (if they gave one) then that person was excused. If they gave a reason but the judge didn’t think it was valid, then that person was left to the lawyers. The lawyers, you see, have the opportunity to ‘challenge’ the suitability of the juror. No questions were asked of the prospective jurors (which was strange to me, given what I’ve absorbed from fiction about the American legal system) but the lawyers clearly had a list of the prospective jurors and some information on us. Every person who offered an excuse to the judge but were denied ended up being challenged by one of the lawyers, and so didn’t have to serve on the jury. Additionally one other person was challenged. Out of the first 8 called, only 2 were seated.
Another 7 names were called. This time all but one were kept and thus the case had its 8 jurors. 8 jurors, I might add, who get paid $20/day plus $13/day for incidentals. Companies are required to give you unpaid leave for jury duty, so it can be pretty crippling for some people.
At any rate, I wasn’t one of them. My name didn’t get called.
We were dismissed from the courtroom and once again left to our own devices. This time though, it was like bats scattering to the wind. Prospective jurors streaming to elevators and exits with no guidance required.
But, it’s not over. Everyone who didn’t get seated (even those who were excused) has to return to go through the whole process for a different case on October 14th. Woo-hoo!