Waiting In the Jury Pool
ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION
I guess I had forgotten, or maybe I never knew, that Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford had their own TV show. If it wasn’t for Orleans Parish Criminal Court, I still might not know.
On the first day of jury duty, things had gone smoothly. Usually those called to the jury pool are released around noon, but by 11:15 we were done.
My second day though was a bit more worrisome. There are two rooms for the prospective jurors to wait in. One is the quiet room where I sat alternating between reading a book, the newspaper and, most frequently, pecking away on my iPhone. There are TVs in both rooms, but in the quiet room the sound is kept off. To me, daytime TV violates the constitutional ban of cruel and unusual punishment, but it was nice to see Hoda, who most of us remember from her days here with WWL-TV. She and Kathie Lee, who, I since learned, host the fourth hour of the “Today” show, were both dressed in white as they poured over some sort of dessert. It occurred to me that prospective jurors sitting in waiting rooms across the country faced the burdens of jurisprudence while watching Hoda taste the meringue.
In each waiting room there is a monitor with an electronic number. Usually the morning starts with a number around 10. That is the total of trials on the docket for the day. As the morning passes the number lowers, indicting yet another case settled by a plea agreement. Those in the jury pool get excited when the number plummets to one or two. But on the second day something seemed wrong. Noon was nearing and the number on the monitor had been stalled at two for a long time, indicating perhaps a deal falling through and an impending trial.
Then came the news as announced by the clerk: We could all go to lunch, but had to be back by 1:30. We might, I worried, be there all day. My concern was increased because I realized that I had forgotten to charge my iPhone the night before. The battery power percentage was at 30; that would not take me through the afternoon. And what if I was selected for a trial and had to stay into the evening? Everyone else around me had some sort of electronic device. A few had thought to bring chargers to plug into the wall outlets, but I was in danger of hitting empty, like holding a pitcher without juice.
Then I had an idea: I had a charger in my car that worked off the cigarette lighter, so much of my lunch hour was spent driving around generating power for the iPhone. Lunch I had to have without the phone, which I left charging in the car. In performing my civic duty I had to suffer through a Googleless lunch.
By the time I got back to the jury room my phone had been juiced up to 80 percent, enough to get me through the day. (Unless I strained the battery with a flurry of those irrelevant questions that sometime pop into my mind, like the population of Iwo Jima.)
Shortly after we returned, the clerk read out 50 names with the instruction to head toward an upstairs courtroom. I was not one of them. Then she paused and said, “the rest of you may leave.” We didn’t need convincing, and my battery level was still at 70.
During the four days I was on duty there were four times when groups of 50 were called to the court. My name was never uttered. I wasn’t sure whether to feel lucky or insulted.
On the first day a judge had told us that an overwhelming number of trials now end with plea deals, so no trial is held; yet the process of jury by peers has to be kept in motion. So each morning around 200 people sit and wait.
In its own way justice is served – and Hoda is rediscovered.