I had every medical reason in the world to dodge a jury summons, from a bad back to an ingrown toenail, but my dog wouldn’t allow it.
He sat looking at me in a sad and accusatory manner as I picked up the phone to call the county excuse line, his expression indicating that by ducking my civic duty I was somehow betraying him.
Springer spaniels have the look down pat. Their eyes say that they expect a certain nobility from those with whom they associate, and crawling away from an essential function of democracy is anything but noble.
So I limped into Room 210 of Santa Monica’s courthouse and joined Group 15 for what amounted to the most boring day of my life, more tedious even than a week spent digging latrines at Camp Pendleton.
The upside of that was a colonel who came by and said, “Nice job, son,” which is the military equivalent of a pat and a dog biscuit, thereby inspiring pride in duty. In L.A. County, you get $5 a day and mileage.
Jury reform is in the air, which is another reason I responded to the summons. The state’s Judicial Council says that our system is on the brink of collapse and badly needs fixing, especially in L.A.
In other words, forgive the metaphor, we’re still digging latrines for a pat and a dog biscuit. But that’s something I had to see for myself.
Other areas have moved ahead in jury reform by raising the pay and limiting the time a juror must serve to one day if he isn’t called for a trial.
In L.A. County, where putting along is a way of life, it’s still $5 a day and a 10-day requirement to serve either at the courthouse or on call.
The way this works is that you sit in the jury assembly room all day amusing yourself until your name is called for a panel. I passed the time by reading “Angela’s Ashes,” a book about poverty, filth, death, alcoholism and deep religious convictions in Limerick, Ireland.
It is not a happy book, and by the end of the first two chapters I was so depressed I could cry. Time is slowed to the pace of a cat crossing quicksand when you’re depressed and waiting, which gave me even more time to read and more time to sink into a deep and abiding melancholy.
I felt like the man in the Edvard Munch painting who holds his head and screams. Such was my tortured state of mind that I’d have sent a shoplifter to death row had I been called at that moment to serve on a jury.
Others amused themselves by watching the “Jerry Springer Show,” where, as in “Angela’s Ashes,” someone is always getting a clitther on the gob, which is an Irish description of a whack to the head. ‘Tis.
Names were called periodically for jurors to join a panel, but mine, alas, was not among them. Dooming someone would have at least broken the boredom.
Small groups formed, but no one invited me to join. There were reasons for that. One was that I seemed to be in some kind of pain, which was true, because I had that ingrown nail on my left big toe and it throbbed.
The other reason was a notice on the door that cited California Rules of Court forbidding jurors to talk to the media during a trial. I was sure they knew I was media and interpreted the rule to mean I was to be shunned, like an Amish elder caught downloading porn.
This allowed time to look around at the quality of those who sit in judgment: an old man in jeans who wandered the room mumbling; a woman dressed in black from a seaman’s cap pulled down across her forehead to black ankle-length boots; a young man who spent hours on a cell phone and never said more than uh-huh; and a Linda Tripp look-alike, poor thing, who was probably very nice but cursed with a sour smile and bad hair.
I spent two full days in Room 210 and the rest of the time on call at home, checking in by phone during the middle of the day or after 6 p.m., which made me feel like a prisoner of the clock.
Just about the time I finished “Angela’s Ashes” my jury duty came to an end without me being called for a trial. The whole thing was a waste of time, which is what they’re talking about fixing.
But there won’t be a next time for me. I’ll get a note from the AMA if necessary to say I’m too ill to serve, and the dog can go to hell. Stare too hard and he’ll get a good clitther on the gob.
Al Martinez’s column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.