Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jury duty in the land of plantations

As most of you are probably already know, the official title for the "Ocean State" (motto: "Roads? What roads?") is, or rather was, "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. " The whole plantations thing has been officially dropped -- so you can see what our elected officials spend their time doing: arguing about the state name.

Anyway, I began my tour as a "petit" (small or little) juror yesterday in the "new" state of Rhode Island, in Providence, the new "creative capital" of the state. (Another tagline our city officials have spent God-knows how much time and money coming up with: the "creative capital" of what I have no idea.)

Like nearly a hundred other folks I spent the morning sitting around, watching the orientation video, listening to the orientation lecture by a guy in a dress sitting up high at the front of the room who pretty much read the same spiel that we had just seen on the video. The one thing "the judge" wanted to know was if any of us prospective jurors had any problems that might hinder our ability to serve as the lynchpins of our democracy to speak up. Specifically he asked if anyone had difficulty in seeing him or hearing what he was talking about, if so we were to inform one of the nearby juror "drovers" (the guys that herd us like so much cattle) so that they could learn more about our specific needs.

The short of it was no one raised their hands, no one tried to wheedle out of their service to the community -- after all, we had just been harangued several times over about how the future of our democratic way of life hinged upon us doing our duty.

So we stood up took the oath and sat down. (Actually we stood up and sat down several times in short order as the judge came in, lectured, when we took the oath and when the judge left; rather like being in church.)

After we we were sworn in the drovers herded us back down stairs, where we sat around until about noon. Instead of being given time off for lunch, we were informed that there was no need for us for the rest of the day and so we were free to go. We were warned, however, that we had to be back at 9:30am Thursday when there was a good chance some of us were going to be selected for upcoming trials.

One could just feel the electricity of excitement in the room.

Still, not bad for fifteen bucks ($15) a day.

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