I lived in Brooklyn for much of my tenure in New York City. I was living in Park Slope in the summer of 1999, and at the time, I was a little worried about gigs. As luck would have it, bassist Lonnie Plaxico called me out of the blue to join the band of legendary jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson. We would have nine straight weeks of touring in Japan and Europe. This would start in late September. I was excited about it, and I felt as though my luck had taken a clear turn for the better.
|Scene from 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda and Jack Klugman|
|This might get you out of jury duty...|
And then I look to my left, and I notice a familiar profile sitting a few benches over: lo and behold, it's jazz pianist James Williams! I immediately go sit next to him. We greet each other and talk about the funny coincidence that we both should be there on the same day. Williams also had a similar dilemma as I did, in that he had a tour which began at the end of the week, and he could not risk being put on a jury and jeopardize his gig.
Now would be the time to tell you what I was told by some of my musician friends; anytime they got a letter from Kings County requesting their presence at jury duty, they promptly threw it in the trash. I considered doing this, but fear of repercussions was too much for me. I've been told you could get fined up to 1000 dollars. Maybe some have done jail time, who knows? I think it's the sort of thing where they have so many people, maybe too many, that do show up for jury duty, that it's probably a waste of resources to actually enforce making people show up if they don't want to go.
Anyway, back to my day in court: Williams and I were sitting there, chatting, when they made the announcement that they were collecting the jury duty notices that we had received in the mail, so that they could keep track of who had shown up that day. At that point, Williams got quiet, and he seemed to be planning his escape. "I think I'm just going to go home," he said. " Can you call me later and tell me what happened?" I said I would and Williams got up and sneaked out of the room. I was thinking of following suit when the bailiff took my jury duty notice. "Damn, I guess I'm stuck here...."
Luckily, I did not get put on a jury, probably because I just tried to look angry when the attorneys talked to me. I said I was self employed, and that every moment in the courthouse was taking away from my business, and that I could not be impartial, because I would only make my decision based on how quickly I could get the hell out of there. So I was there for 2 days waiting around, and then I got a card saying they wouldn't call me again for at least another 4 years, thank the Lord.
I called Williams later that day and told him what happened, and that he shouldn't worry about it, since they had more than enough people who seemed to want to be on a jury, just to give them a momentary escape from their miserable city jobs. Williams seemed relieved. I thought about what it must be like for African-Americans to be asked to serve in a country that for so long has made a point of not serving them, to put it lightly. I could understand why black people would want to just throw their jury notices in the trash. And even I, a white person, was offended by the lawyers who would have us serve on the jury for their slip-and-fall lawsuit, taking precious time out of our lives for 40 dollars a day while they get 200 bucks an hour. Yeah, I know the whole jury-of-your-peers thing....whatever. I just remember when on a classic episode of The Simpsons, Attorney-at-Law Lionel Hutz makes a remark to Lisa Simpson: "If there is one thing we need, its more lawyers. Can you imagine a world without lawyers?" Cut to people of all races around the world holding hands in peace......
|"Can You Imagine A World Without Lawyers?"|