Tag Archives: Minnesota

The time I was on a jury

13 Jan

One thing I like to do here on TPY is tell stories about myself. I was on a jury once. I thought that would make an interesting story, but I didn’t want to write it as a narrative like I’ve done in the past. I think that could be interesting reading, but  don’t really want to write (or think, for that matter) about the case or the details of the trial. The case material was not exactly fun times. That being said, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about jury duty. I think I’ll do it bullet point style. This might be digressive or disjointed. I don’t know. We’ll see where it takes us.

My jury summons covered a two week period. When you report to the jury holding pen on the first day there’s a little introduction/briefing and then they tell you to hang out wait until they call your name for a case. When you get called on a case, you don’t have to go to the jury holding pen until the case is over. I got called on the first case of the week. I think in hindsight that was ideal. Sitting in a room waiting for your name to be called seems terrible and kind of stressful. I’d always be nervous about going to the bathroom and missing my name. Plus I’d always be on alert for new cases. I don’t think it would be easy to concentrate on reading or whatever in that situation.

Being on a case is less time-consuming than being in the jury holding pen. A lot of being on a jury involves not being in the courtroom. On the first day we had to fill out a questionnaire and then they sent us home. There were 40 of us in the jury pool and they gave us times to come back in groups of twelve for jury questioning (you lawyers in the audience know this as voir dire). Then we all came back on Friday and the jury members were announced. The next week the trial and deliberations went until after lunch on Wednesday. So all told maybe eight hours the first week and two and a half days the second. Not too bad.

There were not one but two women in the jury pool who knew my mom from work. The odds on that must be in the stratosphere.

The jury questionnaire was full of all kinds of not-obviously-related-to-the-case stuff. Of course we didn’t know what the case was at that point. What was the last book you read, are you morally opposed to pornography, etc. The whole jury selection process is kind of demeaning. Lawyers asking you personal questions and then passing judgment on you. I did not like it. I was also trying hard to answer questions in ways that would get me bounced from the jury without lying. I had the feeling that I did not want to be involved in this case. I was almost successful but there was some legal maneuvering from the prosecution and I wasn’t struck. Weak.

One guy’s most recently read book was by Glenn Beck. The defendant’s lawyers asked him about it during voir dire. He was very pro-Glenn Beck. That guy seemed like a douche.

During the trial we had an hour and a half for lunch. What other profession takes 90 minutes for lunch every day? Judges sure are lazy. I like having free time as much as anyone, but it was a bit excessive. 90 minutes is too long to enjoyably kill time aimlessly but not long enough to do anything worthwhile. I spent a lot of time walking around the Minneapolis skyway system. I went to the library once or twice. I met my dad for lunch once or twice. I went to an event where the Twins unveiled the next season’s schedule.

As jurors we were paid $10 a day. We did not get any fringe benefits. No free meals in the government center dining room, no free parking, not even free bus fare. That was weak. Round-trip bus fare was $4.50 a day. And it’s not possible to buy lunch in downtown Minneapolis for less than $5.50. The people who drove were even more screwed. Parking at the courthouse was like $17 a day. I don’t think you can park all day anywhere downtown for less than $12 or so. At least Minneapolis parking isn’t as expensive as downtown parking in, say, Chicago or San Francisco. I should note that I don’t feel sorry for people who had to drive. If you want to live on an acre and a half in Minnetonka or wherever that’s just part of the price you pay. There was much complaining from those people. Fuck them. I, on the other hand, had a legitimate complaint. Those of us riding the bus were doing our civic duty to lower pollution and decrease traffic congestion and prevent downtown from being taken over by parking ramps. The bus and the district court are both paid for by local government agencies. Can’t they work together to get free bus fare for jurors? That seems like common sense.

The trial itself took the better part of two days. It was surprising how much of the trial takes place without the jury in the courtroom. Whenever the lawyers brought up some point that might bias us or give us too much information or something we were shuffled out into the hall to wait. That’s right, the hall. Not a room with chairs or anything. The hall, where there were a few benches. We spent hours sitting out there waiting. The information gap that occurs from missing half of the trial while sitting in the hall made us turn into detectives of a sort. I was always trying to figure out what they were talking about while we were gone. There was a lot of speculating in the jury room while we were deliberating.

The way information is presented to jurors was pretty frustrating. I know there are good reasons for doing things the way they do, but I just wanted to see all the information and go through it myself. One key piece of information was that the defendant was already in federal prison after pleading guilty to a related federal charge. If the defense had its way, we would never have found this out. The prosecutor couldn’t just tell us. The way we got that info was roundabout and weird. The prosecutor had a police officer who had testified at the federal trial read portions of the transcript of that trial to us while he was on the witness stand. (Not portions of his own testimony, portions of the defendant’s confession.) This was over the defense’s strenuous objection. It was obvious that this had been argued over at length while we were in the hall, and it was not explained to us why it was presented like that.

During the trial there were twelve jurors and three alternate jurors. At the end, the three alternates were unceremoniously dismissed. On one hand, I think I would have been relieved to be relieved* of the responsibility of reaching a verdict, but to sit through the whole thing and then not be involved in deliberations or even find out how it ended would be a bit disappointing. I would feel left out.
*Ha. Wordplay!

During the trial jurors aren’t allowed to discuss any aspect of the case with anyone, even the other jurors. This gave hallway time a weird dynamic. There was some small talk, but not much more than that. Everyone was pretty subdued and afraid of accidentally discussing the case.
-How long do you think we’ll be out here?
-I don’t know, the defense seemed pretty insistent about that last thing.
-Oh no, we just discussed the case!

A brief case summary is probably unavoidable, so here it is: Defendant was charged with the rape of his friend’s underage daughter. Verdict: guilty.

As you might imagine, most of the details of the case were unpleasant. I wonder how much this affected the experience. I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. I certainly haven’t tried to remember any of it. At this point the only name I can recall from the whole process is the defendant’s. How much of this is normal and how much is due to me not wanting to remember things? That’s fine with me, but would my recollection be better if the case had been some innocuous civil matter?

Deliberating on a case like this is an intense experience. You form a pretty tight bond with the other eleven jurors. They all seemed like nice people. I think we got along well, and even when there were disagreements things were cordial. At the same time, when it was over we went our separate ways. We were all in the lobby of the government center and no one really knew how to end it. Pretty quickly there were handshakes etc. and we all walked off. From the verdict to the goodbye was sort of emotional. Tears from some of the ladies and such. I don’t think I’d want to stay in contact with any of the other jurors. I think it would be difficult to overcome the circumstances that started things. “Hey, remember that time we talked about child rape for several hours?” Yuck.

I was both surprised and pleased with how seriously all the jurors took things. When we went into the jury room, all of us thought the defendant was guilty. It took us maybe eight hours to return a verdict. There’s a surprisingly wide gap between “yeah I think he probably did it” and “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

I was also surprised at how little information and instruction we were given in deliberation. We had the jury instructions and the evidence entered in the trial. These were both essentially inconsequential. What I wanted to have were transcripts/recordings of testimony. Nope. We had to rely on our memories. That was less than ideal sometimes. Also no one paid any heed to the various lawyering that went on in the trial. Opening/closing statements and such. I think most people are too smart for that.

I think everyone has an image of courtrooms formed from movies and TV. High ceilings, oak wainscoting, a large gallery full of people. The Verdict, more or less. This is not true in Hennepin County. The trial took place on the 11th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in a small room with modest and modern accoutrements and only three or four rows of seating. Other than the people being called as witnesses, there was usually no one in the gallery. Occasionally one or two people were there. They never stayed long. I got the impression that they were law students doing some kind of homework.

The bailiff was an interesting character. He’s the one court figure we got to actually interact with. We asked him a lot of questions about jury sequestering. We were not sequestered. But sometimes juries are. He told us about one jury that was told they’d be sequestered but the members of the jury thought they’d reach a verdict before the end of the day. They didn’t. No one brought anything with them because they thought they were going home. So the bailiff had to take them to Target to buy toothbrushes and underwear and stuff. This was difficult for the bailiff because the jurors have to be supervised at all times. So he had another guy come with him and split the jury into boys and girls and they had to go around Target buying essentials in groups. Also, sometimes jurors aren’t allowed any outside contact during deliberations. This includes calls to family members. So the bailiff said that in those cases, jurors could write notes to their loved ones. The bailiff would then call said loved ones and read the notes. “I love you honey” and so on. He seemed to think that was pretty funny.

Once we started deliberating the bailiff was pretty serious about keeping us together. We all had to eat lunch together in the cafeteria. We all had to go down to the cafeteria in one elevator. We all had to go stand by the door if someone wanted to go outside to smoke. It was one of those situations where reasonable rules in concept create a ridiculous situation in practice.

The cafeteria was terrible. It was one of those a la carte places with buffet items and sandwiches and stuff. Gross. And it was like $8. You can’t eat downtown for less than $5.50 but there are a lot of good options for less than $8. I only ate there when we had to because we were deliberating. When I walked past it at lunchtime there were always a lot of people eating there. I think it was mostly suburban jurors who were intimidated by Minneapolis’s skyway system and never left the building for fear of getting lost.

After everything was over the judge told us that the prosecutor or defendant might contact us after the trial to ask us about things. Apparently this is standard practice for lawyers. Like football players studying game film. I’m glad no one contacted me. Also of note: all of our full names were readily available to everyone involved, including the defendant. I didn’t feel great about that.

I thought jury duty was pretty serious business. I thought court in general was serious business. I dressed accordingly. On the first day. I wore khaki pants, oxford shirt, necktie, sweater, and loafers. The last thing I thought was that I was overdressed. There were probably 200 people called for jury duty that week, so let’s say 100 men. I was the only one wearing a tie. That stunned me. Wearing a tie to court seemed like common sense to me. I wonder if that reflects our society’s larger trend toward casual dress or an erosion of respect for our judicial institutions. I would guess the former. I think people probably just wore their everyday clothes to jury duty. I remember when I was young my dad wore a suit and tie to work every day. Now, when he does to work at the same place, in a more senior position, sometimes he wears jeans and a polo shirt. He’s not the only one. None of his co-workers wears a suit or a tie. Twenty years ago they all did. That’s an amazing cultural shift. Someone smart should explain why that happened.

There was one Vietnamese guy on the jury. His English wasn’t great. I think he followed everything OK, but he didn’t say much in the jury room. I didn’t talk to him so I don’t know his story, but obviously if he’s on a jury he’s a citizen and a registered voter. Of course he should be both entitled and expected to participate in the judicial process, but I don’t know if having a jury member who may not grasp every nuance is the best-case scenario. I’m sure there’s a lot of dumb writing about this kind of thing on the internet. I’m not going to try and find it. Would this kind of juror generally favor the defense or prosecution? Interesting question.

We weren’t involved with the sentencing at all. We were told it would take place a month hence. As I mentioned, the defendant was already serving a related federal sentence. I didn’t check on the details after the fact. I’m glad sentencing wasn’t involved in our job as jurors. There’s a lot more involved in deciding a “fair” sentence than in deciding innocence or guilt. Probably best left to professionals. Although I know there are sometimes problems with judges and sentences. The judicial system is hard.

Court reporter seems like a cushy gig. We all picture a harried secretary type banging out shorthand on a typewriter. Nope. It was an old guy monitoring a tape recorder. Occasionally he’d ask someone to repeat or spell a name but a lot of the time he looked asleep.

The clerk was sneaky hot. My understanding is that, at least at elite levels, clerks are all law students/recent graduates. I wonder if that’s true of district court clerks and if their duties are similar. I also wonder if a juror has ever picked up a clerk during or after a trial. Seems like a high degree of difficulty.

So that’s jury duty. Maybe I’ll be on a jury again some day. Right before I moved I received a notice in the mail informing me that I had been put on the Federal Grand Jury watch list or something for the next two years. I was disappointed when I had to tell them that I moved and couldn’t serve. Being on a grand jury sounds cool. I would like to do that.

Road trip recap

13 Oct

When you move cross-country, the beginning of the trip is really what feels like an ending. This is the longest moving road trip I’ve taken, but not the only one. Intuitively it feels like the part of the trip that defines the new phase of your life should be showing up at the new place you’re going to live, but that’s not the case. Leaving feels like a much larger life event than arriving. When I got to Oakland it didn’t feel much different than when I got to Reno the day before.

Here is a map showing my route:

I-35 to I-80 with a little detour onto I-76 to Denver

Here is my itinerary:
Day 1: Minneapolis to Lincoln
Day 2: Lincoln to Denver
Day 3: hang out in Denver
Day 4: Denver to Salt Lake City
Day 5: hang out in Salt Lake City
Day 6: Salt Lake City to Reno
Day 7: Reno to Oakland

Here is a state by state recap:

I already mentioned how the start of the trip feels like an ending. Consider that point reëmphasized.* Driving out of the alley leaving my parents house was accompanied by a distinct feeling of “holy shit I’m really doing this.” Retracing a familiar route knowing it’s the last time you’re going to do it is surreal.

*On my blog I’ll be writing words like reëmphasize and coördinate with umlauts like they do in The New Yorker. I realize that’s pretentious and I don’t care.

I’ve spent most of my life in Minnesota, and driving south on I-35 is kind of odd. I’ve only done it a couple of times, so even fifteen minutes or so from Minneapolis it feels totally foreign. I’ve seen road signs pointing toward Albert Lea hundreds of times in my life. I’ve never been there or met anyone from there. Actually driving through it is a surprisingly jarring experience.

Hey I’ve driven on this highway!

Driving through Iowa is boring. That’s all there is to it. To Iowa’s credit, Des Moines is unexpectedly large (not in the sense of being actually large, just in the sense of exceeding expectations). They have a couple tall buildings and a beltway and everything. I’ve been to Des Moines once. All I remember is a bland suburban subdivision and getting lost on the way to a soccer game. I definitely recall taping ankles on the moving bus. I probably stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott or something. A lot of those trips blend together. That might make for some interesting blog reading. Stay tuned. So anyway Des Moines seemed like an OK town. Not great, but not the kind of backwater you might think.

Other than Des Moines there wasn’t much in Iowa on my route. A lot of corn. A lot of cows. I did see something that I feel obliged to pass along. You may be familiar with Barilla brand pasta. It has positioned itself as a fairly upscale brand; it’s one of the more expensive brands of regular white flour pasta you encounter at your local supermarket. This image is what greets you at their official website:

Well I guess I’ll cancel my Italian vacation then

While driving through Iowa, I passed a complex of grain silos bearing the Barilla logo. That’s right, when you eat Barilla pasta, you aren’t discovering Italy–you’re discovering Iowa. You are BUSTED Barilla pasta.

Nebraska is a lot like Iowa. Corn etc. I stayed overnight in Lincoln at a Rodeway Inn. This was not a nice place to stay. There were sketchy characters in the parking lot leaning against a pickup truck drinking beer. I like to think they were meth dealers. I got to Lincoln in the early afternoon so I had the chance to do some sightseeing. Jealous? There are two sights to see in Lincoln: the State Capitol building and the University of Nebraska campus. I was there on a Sunday so I don’t think the Capitol was open. Cool building though. I also walked around campus a bit. It was hot as fuck so this wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. Like upper 90s. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that kind of heat anymore. The campus was like most other nondescript large state university campuses.

The real attraction in Lincoln is Memorial Stadium. I went into the main lobby and there was only one guy there (this was a Sunday, remember). He was pretty friendly for a security guard, and let me in to walk around a bit. There were a bunch of offices and athlete lounges and stuff in the stadium. I think this is pretty common, and it always strikes me as odd. Don’t they have a better place to put this shit? I was in West Virginia’s basketball arena once, and they have the whole PE department in the concourse. Classrooms, offices, everything. Not what I am used to from my undergraduate experience. From the field the stadium feels a bit unbalanced. They have a crazy amount of seating in the end zones and not enough on the sidelines.

They’re adding a matching giant press box on the right sideline

I thought Colorado would be all mountains all the time. That’s not really how it works. It’s more like driving up a gentle hill for several hours and then seeing a sign with some crazy elevation level. East of Denver things seemed pretty barren. Nebraska-esque even. I spent a day in Denver, which I enjoyed. One thing about Denver is that there’s a Six Flags practically downtown. Bizarre. I went to the Denver Art Museum, which had a pretty good collection. Not great. It’s one of the museums that’s been renovated/expanded recently and has gotten a lot of publicity for the architecture. I wish museum architecture wasn’t such a thing. I’ve been to a few of these museums in the last couple of years, and to be honest, it doesn’t add much to my appreciation of the art. I can see how it’s important as a matter of civic pride though. Especially for those second-tier American cities like Denver. Having a signature building like a museum is something to put on brochures and brag about to out-of-towners.

Just look at that roller coaster

Wyoming is a more interesting state to drive through than Nebraska or Iowa simply because of the landscape. Its nice to have some hills to look at, and sometimes the road curves or there are bridges and tunnels to keep things interesting. I stopped at a Burger King in Wyoming. That was the only thing I did there.

In general, I tried to eat at interesting local restaurants on this trip. That isn’t always possible on the interstate. I think that I stopped at McDonald’s at least once every day I was driving. And the thing is, I didn’t have a burger or fries there once. It’s easy for me to see how McDonald’s maintains its position as market leader. It isn’t about being better than other fast-food restaurants, it’s about familiarity and convenience. Even in the vast expanse of the west, McDonald’s is probably the most common sight on the freeway. I would try to start driving by 7am every day. Then I’d stop at McDonald’s for breakfast/coffee between 9 and 10am. The food is always the same. I’ve eaten at countless different McDonald’s (McDonalds’? McDonald’ses? Writing this paragraph has been a nightmare) in my life, and there is never a change in quality. That’s not to say that the food is good, just that it’s always the same. There’s value in that. Especially in a strange place. McDonald’s should be commended. I would also frequently stop in the afternoon just for a Coke. Getting off the freeway and driving through at McDonald’s is much more convenient than stopping at a gas station. And you can get any drink for $1. Do you know how much drinks cost at gas stations? It’s ludicrous.

If you want mountains, skip Colorado and go to Utah. Driving into Salt Lake City is impressive. The highway cuts through valleys and there are peaks and mountain lakes and streams. It’s the kind of drive where I wish I had been a passenger so I could have looked around more.

There are a lot of Mormons in Salt Lake City, which is kind of a goofy place. I walked around Temple Square some. I didn’t think it was that impressive, honestly. I could make some snarky jokes about Mormons here, but I don’t want to offend anyone since I know so many Mormons read this blog. There are four streets named “Temple”: North, South, East, and West. Confusing. I noticed that everything is closed on Sundays. Even the Vietnamese restaurant I went to. Other than the Temple there isn’t much downtown. If you drive down the main drag, it starts to look like an exurb literally ten blocks out of downtown. Unnecessarily wide, car dealers, strip malls, no pedestrians anywhere. I dropped in on the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, which was very small. I was not expecting to see contemporary art at all in SLC, so kudos to them. This was such a boring city that I ran out of things to do in my day and a half there and went to the movies. I saw Moonrise Kingdom, which I had already seen. I do not regret it. It is a great movie and I’m confident seeing it is more fun than anything else in SLC. It was also in the 90s there. I thought that high up it might be cooler. NOPE. Strike three. At least three. Probably more.

I stopped and saw the Great Salt Lake, which was almost as disappointing as SLC. The only thing on the shore are dead birds and swarms of bugs that chill on the sand and then fly away like a flock of birds when you approach. The birds don’t really decompose because of all the salt, so whatever doesn’t get eaten just stays there. Lots of bones and feathers. I wouldn’t stop there again.

The salt flats were kind of interesting, in that there isn’t really anything like it anywhere else. This was starting to get into the desert, which was eerie and kind of nerve-racking to drive through.

I also got pulled over in Utah for crossing over the far right white line on an exit ramp with my passenger side tires. This is something that every driver does on every exit ramp. Man fuck Utah.

Last year I saw Meek’s Cutoff, which I really enjoyed. It’s about a group of families traveling west in wagons. They take a shortcut that might be a boondoggle. The movie is about their increasingly desperate situation. It stars Michelle Williams. She is Hollywood’s best actor. Highly recommended. I spent a lot of time on this trip thinking about pioneers. It’s amazing to me that people made trips longer than the one I made in covered wagons. The most amazing part is Nevada. There is nothing in Nevada. This is stereotypical one-exit-every-hundred-miles territory. I stopped and bought two liter bottles of water in case my car broke down. If that happened I would have been walking like one of the poor souls in Meek’s Cutoff. That kind of terrified me. I am not good at cars. I learned how to change a flat tire when I was fifteen but I’ve never had a flat, so I haven’t done it since then. Fifteen was a long time ago. If I had to change a tire this would be me:


Except on I-80 in Nevada there isn’t anyone passing by to offer tips. Thank God I made it through Nevada.

I stayed overnight in Reno. Reno is a depressing place. I stayed at the Circus Circus downtown. I was on the top floor. What a fucking high roller I am. I’d say the hotel was 15% full. On a Friday. Casino floors are sad places to me in general, and Reno’s slogan might as well be, “We’re not Las Vegas and it shows!” Everyone gambling looked like they had been there for hours without moving. I was definitely not underdressed in mesh shorts and a t-shirt. The best part of the city was recognizing things from the interstitial shots of Reno 911!  I’m not planning to go back to Reno.

Yes this is the hotel where Carrot Top threw a bunch of stuff out the window in that one episode of Reno 911!

The state line is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which are beautiful. Just inside the state line is Donner Lake. I mentioned pioneers earlier, and the Donner Party is my go-to party when thinking about pioneers. I watched an American Experience documentary about them in high school, and I was totally riveted. It was narrated by David McCullough, who is the best narrator there is. He’s probably most famous for narrating Ken Burns’s The Civil War. He’s also the author of many books, some of which you may have heard of and has won two Pulitzer Prizes. So everyone should watch that documentary.

I pulled off the highway and drove around Donner Lake, which was kind of disappointing. It’s just another lake with vacation homes and boaters. I was hoping there would be a Donner Party museum or something. What I really wanted was to see the camp and the famous trees the party cut at the snow level that winter. That would have been cool.

That is a lot of snow

Then came the Central Valley. Then came the traffic. Then came Oakland.