Friday, June 24, 2016

Turtle out of her shell--

Sometimes, it's really good to get your routine shaken up.  It's not always easy, but it's a good thing.  I found myself in such a situation just recently -- not only was I summoned for jury duty, but for the first time in my life, actually chosen.

The courthouse was in Lawrence, and the case was predicted to be two weeks long.  Not necessarily the most pleasant or convenient circumstances, but there you have it.  I could see no reason not to participate; because I have such a solid crew, I forged ahead with my civic duty.

For those of you who don't know me well, my work commute is generally 8-9 minutes.  I can see the ocean the whole ride.  I like it that way.
As you all know, most of the time my job includes making delicious, messy, chocolate-y treats.  My work wardrobe is well suited for mud pie making.  Just as I would have it.
My day often consists of telling stories, listening to stories, laughing a lot, listening to music,  and being productive in ways that are immediately appreciated by 99% of the folks who happen to open our door. Sometimes there is singing.  It's good life. It truly is.

I haven't spent much time in Lawrence.  It's pretty big, there's a lot of history, and a refreshingly vibrant and diverse population.  The employees of the Supreme Court were really lovely, very accommodating, very helpful.  There's a lot of excellent food in this city.  I was determined to have lunch hour be my carrot every day, scoured Yelp for recommendations, and had some excellent luck.

Our jury consisted of fourteen individuals, and it took two days for the full number to be reached. Our jury was as diverse as Lawrence itself, which was really pretty cool; I really didn't know what to expect, and this was a happy surprise.  All ages, colors, sexes, really, a great cross section.

The whole process is fascinating, but what was really interesting was this:  while we know that jurors are not allowed to talk about the case outside of the courthouse until the case is completed, I was surprised to find that the actual jurors were not permitted to talk among themselves about the case until all of the evidence and testimony has been heard.  This actually makes a great deal of sense, as new information comes to light every day, and opinions can easily change as the case reveals itself.

So here are these fourteen strangers, spending countless hours together, not talking about the only thing the group had in common. Lots of traffic talk, lunch talk, small talk.  The group dynamics were fascinating to watch; people's personalities took a couple of days to surface (or assert themselves, in some cases).  Interesting to see who always sat in the same seat in the deliberation room, who worked the room, who kept their heads down and read, those who complained, stared into space, knitted, tried to talk about the case, overshared, played games on their phones, just mesmerizing stuff.

In the courtroom, the sociological fodder was just as rich -- watching witnesses, lawyers, the defendants, the plaintiffs, so much to see and hear.  Riveting!  I soaked it all up like a sponge.

This isn't to say my transition was easy.  Waking up at an ungodly hour to fight traffic for 50 minutes or more each morning was only slightly better than trying to figure out what would be considered grown up clothes in which to attend court.  I found myself up against a wall of striped shirts. Sweaters, too.  Apparently, one can have too many striped shirts....


On the commute home, despite the fact that the judge required us to forget all about the case until the next morning, I often would mull over what I saw and heard throughout the day.  After about day four, it became very clear that we fourteen people were going to have a significant impact on some people's lives. It could get a little heavy.

After 6 days of testimony and evidence, we were sent to the deliberation room, where we were to stay until we had either come to a decision, or the day was up. Our case was a civil case, not criminal. The major difference between the two as far as I could tell, was that while a criminal case had to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, a criminal case is decided on the preponderance of evidence -- the weight of the testimony and evidence heard.  This distinction can make reaching a verdict really difficult, a 12-2 verdict almost impossible, in our case.

On the first day of deliberation, most of us had no idea what the other did for work.  I was outed as the Turtle lady on the first day of court (there were three of us from Gloucester), so was an open book.  I had theories about what different people did professionally.  A couple of times I was spot on, but mostly I had no idea.  It was intriguing to me that only during the course of deliberations, almost everyone identified what they did, as it informed their opinions of the case.  

What a talented, varied, brilliant group.  Really.  Just fabulous.  Well spoken, thoughtful.  For almost 12 hours over two days, the debate was thorough, civilized, just really smart.  In the end, most of us were content with the verdict reached. Some were just pleased to have avoided a hung jury.  All of us were looking forward to returning to our lives.

Me?  Feeling really fortunate to have had the chance to do my civic duty,  and grateful the Turtle team could roll on without me at the helm.
Mostly, though, I'm delighted to be back making mud pies, my less-than-ten-minute commute, laughing lots, and telling stories.

Plus the singing.  Mustn't forget that.

Happy Summer, folks!