Zezima: Jerry's jury duty
It was an offer I couldn't refuse: Report to jury duty for a mob trial or wake up next to a horse's head. My wife, Sue, who wakes up every morning next to the other end of a horse, said it would be safer to do my civic duty than to end up on trial myself.
So I drove to the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see if I would be selected to sit on the jury for the trial of two alleged mobsters who were charged with murder, robbery, extortion and -- perhaps the most serious offense -- having silly nicknames.
I was one of about 225 prospective jurors in a pool of more than 400. I don't know what happened to the others (maybe they're in the witness protection program), but our group had to sit around so long that we could have watched three episodes of "Law & Order."
Finally, we were led from the juror waiting area to a long hallway where we were told to break into double file. Then we had to step up to a table at which two jury administrators gave us juror numbers (mine was 390) and told each of us to take a pencil, which we would later use to fill out a questionnaire.
"If I keep the pencil, will I get nabbed for stealing?" I asked one of the administrators.
"It's the property of the federal government," she replied, pleasantly but firmly. "You have to return it on your way out."
My grand larceny case would have to wait because I was on my way into a courtroom so large, it could have hosted a Hollywood premiere.
"Am I going to see a movie?" I asked deputy court clerk Melissa Burke, who ushered me into the second row.
"No," she said, "but you will be entertained." Burke turned out to be so entertaining that she should be in Hollywood.
"Welcome to U.S. District Court," she said. "We're very happy to see you." Burke instructed us to stand and raise our right hands so we could be sworn in.
"This is a criminal trial," she continued. "It could last 10 weeks. You will be reimbursed for your travel expenses. Make sure you get parking and bridge receipts. Don't worry about figuring out mileage. We'll do that. We're the feds. We know where you live."
When someone asked if the trial would be held on weekends, Burke replied, "No. The judge has a life. I have a life. We won't sequester you. We're not here to put you up in a hotel. Don't think we're going to give you the keys to a suite at the Marriott. You have to go back home to your spouses whether you like it or not."
A woman raised her hand and said, "I'm pregnant."
"Congratulations," Burke said. "You can put that down under hardship."
"I might try that excuse myself," I said to the person sitting next to me. Then I raised my hand and asked, "How come you don't have your own talk show?"
Burke smiled and said, "People have asked me that, but it's not my passion. I want to be a lawyer."
A guy in the back muttered, "My condolences."
Before each of us filled out a 43-page questionnaire, Burke said those of us who were called back would have to report the following week.
"Don't tell your boss that you have to report for the rest of this week and then go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas," she warned. "Your employers will be calling us. We will tell them the truth." After filling out the questionnaire, I returned my pencil to the jury administrator and went straight home. I was called back but wasn't selected to sit on the jury.
"Thank you for serving," Burke told me.
"You're welcome," I said. "Here's my verdict: Get an agent. And if you're ever an attorney on `Law & Order,' I want to be one of the jurors."