Slavery of Jury Duty

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“Failure
to appear can result in a charge of criminal contempt and a fine
of $250,” said a pleasant sounding recorded voice. It was another
helpful representative of Big Brother in Queens County. This time
the New York State Supreme Court was conscripting me. I was instructed
to have a pen and pencil “to take down information.” I
was commanded to come to the courthouse in Kew Gardens on Wednesday,
November 10 at 9 a.m. I was told to have proper “courtroom
attire.”

And,
by God, don’t wear blue jeans! I felt as though I was about to enter
the Marine Corps. And I had better toe the line or else!

The
leviathan was reaching into my life. Again. I was summoned for jury
duty Last year I had served in federal district court in Brooklyn,
sitting in a room filled with other slaves as we passively listened
to angry instructions from prissy clerks as the sounds of idiot
boxes — Jerry Springer or some other moron seemed perpetually
on — went through our cramped room. I was not supposed to be
served with another jury summons for four years, but court record
keeping is not very good, a clerk would eventually tell me. Jeez,
if they couldn’t even get my dates of jury service straight, could
they be getting other things wrong, too, I thought. No, I reassured
myself, our government conducts “surgical bombing” strikes
in the Balkans. It never misses (They said so on CNN, the Clinton
News Network). It never makes mistakes. “We will bomb to bring
peace.” Our courts will enslave citizens in order to free them.
It is all so easy to understand as long as one knows Newspeak, the
language of Big Brother in the novel 1984.

But
even before this latest round of judicial servititude, I was being
threatened, directed and told how to act. Maybe I should buy some
new clothes, I thought. I should certainly keep my opinions about
the government, about the courts, about judges who had gained their
appointments through relationships with political bosses and about
liars, err lawyers, to myself. I must obey, I thought as I remembered
what one is told countless times in this Great Republic: We live
in a free country in which the government is subject to law just
like any average citizen from Central Queens.

Right.

I
arrived on time. I made sure I didn’t wear blue jeans. Hey, these
people in government bureaucracies can alter your life in countless
ways. I still remember the remarkable clerk at the state DMV who
was better than Grecian Formula. She reversed the numbers on my
driver’s license, changing the date of my birth with the flick of
a keystroke. It was so nice that she made me somewhat younger — these
bureaucrats are like Gods! — but it’s a little difficult to explain
to people why I have different birth dates on documents. Did I have
trouble remembering my birthday?

What
did I find at the jury assembly room? A dirty, badly illuminated
central jury assembly room in Kew Gardens. No court official was
there, but there was a newspaper article conspicuously posted that
said one juror had been put in jail for contempt of court for not
showing up on time. I was looking around for a hall monitor, when
I noticed hundreds of people were sitting around. They were also
trying to figure out if they were in the right place and what they
should do next. Seems the folks in authority — our betters, the
people who owned us today — had more important things to do than
to worry about what a herd of quiescent lumpen proletariat needed.

At
9:20, twenty minutes late, a court official showed up. He was not
a happy camper. He was a formidable figure. How can I describe him?

Imagine
a Marine Court drill instructor who struts back and forth across
the room like George Jefferson after he’s just had an argument with
next-door neighbor Archie Bunker. Imagine someone who constantly
uses the subjunctive tense. (“If you don’t do what I say, I
will escort you outside. This is not a nursery,” barks Sgt.
Jefferson at one confused member of an audience of hundreds of people,
most of whom seem like frightened sheep).

A
person who asks a neighbor how he should fill out a form while Sgt.
Jefferson is addressing the crowd is suddenly told to shut up by
our impatient D.I. Frustrated and angry with this roomful of human
blanks, Sgt. Jefferson tells us that we have accepted this assignment;
that no one was forced into this. “When you came here you said
that you were ready, willing and able to serve as a juror.”

“When
did I say that,” I think? Oh, my God, what else did I agree
to? As I remember it, I came because I didn’t want to go to jail
and pay a fine. I came because of that article conspicuously displayed
about a juror sent to hoosegow for 10 days. I came because I have
learned that it is best to obey Caesars, especially little ones.
I came because I am a poltroon.

Sgt.
Jefferson, obviously thinking of me, knows he has some poor fish.
He huffs that “Not even in the Marine Corps have I had these
kinds of problems.”

Yet
our keeper has a soft side. Are there people who might be upset
if ultimately they weren’t selected for jury duty? Well, Sgt. Jefferson
wants to gently reassure these folks if they’re rejected: “The
court won’t be saying that I didn’t pick you because your mouthwash
didn’t make it this morning,” he explains. The man had a way
with words.

A
woman next to me gasps, not believing what she has just heard our
DI say about bad breath. I was far ahead of her on the learning
curve. I was about to tell her: “This is not a nursery, you
know.” I wanted to be an agent of Sgt. Jefferson, a junior
goose stepper, with possibly a warm place for me in the bureaucracy
(Maybe, I’d have the same post as the pig who was always making
excuses for Napoleon in Animal
Farm
). I wanted her to understand. I wanted her to realize
that “It Takes a Village” of bureaucrats to help us make
it through life.

Apparently,
she labors under the delusion that Sgt. Jefferson and those other
non-commissioned officers in our endless and growing bureaucracies
serve the citizens. Apparently, she hasn’t learned that we, the
citizens, the sheep, serve the members of these noble bureaucracies
that reduce us — said Alexis de Tocqueville over a century
and a half ago — to perpetual childhood.

Apparently, she never understood that we are the servants and the
bureaucrats — in our welfare/warfare state — are the masters.

Apparently, no one reads Democracy
in America
anymore. But who needs some ancient French crybaby
philosopher worried about the survival of liberty when we have an
army of civil servants willing to take care of us?

Granted,
these representatives of our government bureaucracies are, at times,
rough parents. But they are trying to “scare us straight.”
They must keep us in line because we’re too stupid to know what
is best for ourselves. We should all thank whatever deity we pay
homage to that these paternalistic, although at times, impatient
top sergeants are around to keep us from running our own lives.
We’d screw them all up if we were left to our own devices so it’s
best that the government — in all its facets, most especially the
courts — do more for us. And, thanks to the caring people like Sgt.
Jefferson — it will!

Next
time I go on jury duty I expect to receive a notice telling me that
I must goose step to the courthouse and that appropriate “courtroom
attire” will include getting my head shaved. Maybe Lou Gossett
from “An Officer and a Gentleman” will be there to make
me snap to attention. Maybe Jack Webb, who used to do training films
for the Marines, will be there to bark orders at me and curse me
because I’m a pot-bellied Babbitt from Central Queens who doesn’t
follow instructions fast enough and obviously still thinks he’s
“in a nursery.”

Next
time, whichever branch of our wonderful leviathan commands me, I,
an unworthy citizen, will be ready and will obey. They won’t have
to take me into a roomful of rats like Winston Smith in 1984.
No, sir, one thought of the Central Jury Assembly Room in Kew Gardens
will be good enough to get me goose stepping tout de suite.

To
hell with J.S. Mill, De Tocqueville and Lord Acton! Thanks to all
the caring Sgt Jeffersons. This is not a nursery, you know! Sieg
heil!

November
18, 1999

Gregory Bresiger is a business writer living in New York City.
He recommends J.S. Mill’s On
Liberty
, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy
in America
, Learned Hand’s The Spirit of Liberty,
H.L. Mencken’s, The American Scene, a Reader and Shakespeare’s
Julius
Caesar
.

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