Tuesday, March 15, 2011
“When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty” Groucho Marx
It was not an original idea. But when I read of NYC actor Jonathan Lovitz’s response during Voir Dire & knew I would just have to follow suit.
Along with 200 other potential Portlanders called to do our civic duty, I arrived at 7:30am, & because I am just a little bit compulsive/obsessive, I was immediately flummoxed by the seating choices. Where do the cool people sit? Do I need to have a clear view of the large TV screens? Where are the hotties in the room? Back of the room or front of the room?
My jury pool was treated to a video about why our service was so important. As an actor, I have done probably 30+ industrial films & training videos, including high budget projects for Intel, Starbucks & Microsoft. In the early 1990s I had an industrial film where I played a disembodied floating head, set in the future, where had to rattle off technical jargon for a half hour. This project involved learning my lines phonetically. It was as if I was doing the project in Hebrew. As I watched the jury duty video, I was unable to concentrate on anything other than the roles that I might have played… if I was still in the biz. I was certain that I would have been better than the unattractive stiffs they used for this damn project.
I waited in my fortunately comfortable chair, noting each half hour as it passed. I had been warned by a reader- Rico of this bloggy thing, to be prepared to wait with reading material, water & provisions. I busied myself snacking on my almonds & reading the new Michael Cunningham book- By Nightfall, which is so tasty, I don’t want it to end; I read each page several times.
Despite Mr. Cunningham’s pulchritudinous prose, I kept coming back to who in the room was hot. I decided against the 20-something with the bedhead hair & chunky arty glasses, because he was wearing leather jeans, & leather pants seemed just a bit too consciously calculated for court. I honed in on the only man in the room wearing a suit, an Anderson Cooper lookalike. I then tried to communicate with this silver fox using telepathy. After 2 ½ hours of waiting, & just as soon as I was sure that my local Anderson Cooper had received the clairvoyant communiqué to meet me in the janitors’ closet, I heard my name called as 1 of 16 picked to go to an actual courtroom.
I was quite excited to discover the James Earl Jones was the judge. I think it was Mr. Jones, but I didn’t have my glasses on. But,I know it was his voice.
I was Jury Person #3. When it came time for Voir Dire, I was asked, under oath, the same questions as the 2 gentlemen before me:
What is your name? “Stephen Rutledge”
What is your occupation? “Retired actor, now a retail buyer & manager”
What is your education? “I have a BA in Theatre from Loyola Marymount. As you can tell, I have no problem enunciating or projecting.”
Where do you live, who do you live with & what do they do for a living? "I live in NoPo, with my husband. We were married on our 25th anniversary of being a couple, in Vancouver BC. He is an artist/designer & ne'er-do-well. We share our home with 2 canines”
What are your hobbies? “Reading, blogging, gardening, movies, TV, music & judging other people by their clothing.”
Have you ever been the victim of a crime? “Yes indeed, I have been mugged, shot at, shot & fagbashed. I believe I have used up my quota of violent crimes.”
Do you have any relationships with someone in law enforcement. “No, but what have you heard?”
Have you ever served on jury or been part of a civil or criminal trial? “I played Mr. Serath, the defendant in a trial, on an episode of Simon & Simon. I was very convincing.”
Where do you get your news & information? “I read the Oregonian & the NY Times on line, & from the very yummy Anderson Cooper on CNN. (& because the 2 people before me had answered- Fox News) I do not get my news from Fox News, because Fox News provides inane entertainment & misinformed editorial content for stupid people… not actual news.”
When all 16 had answered the questions, I was satisfied that I was the most interesting person on the panel, except possibly for the woman who was a ER Physician & Psychiatrist, who bicycled to work & had been the victim of a hit & run… but had she ever attended the Academy Awards or slept with a celebrity? The defense attorney asked me to clarify my experiences as a crime victim, which I regaled with my readiness as a smart, skilled, savvy storyteller.
The attorney then asked what I was praying she would ask: “Do you have reason to think that you could be unbiased in deciding another person’s guilt?”
Stephen: “With great respect counselor, & your honor, because my marriage is not recognized by the federal or state governments, & because I am held as a second-class citizen by this country & this state, in fact in many regards I am not considered fully human, I am certain I do not have the ability to remain unbiased about anything. I really want to stick it to The Man.”
Judge James Earl Jones broke the electric silence by giving me a stern talking to: “Do you understand Stephen, that just less than 100 years ago, most people in this room would not have been eligible for jury duty because they were not white male property owners? Change can be made, but you must participate to make that change.”
“Your Honor, I am just to pissed to participate in being impartial.”
I was not one of the 12 chosen to serve on the jury. I will never know for sure why. The guy in the camouflage jacket seated next to me, who answered his question – “What are your hobbies” with: I don’t know... fishin’, huntin’ & ya know…”, glared at me when he was chosen & I was dismissed. I winked at him.
In the hallway, the ER Doc/Psychiatrist came up to me & stated: “I want read the story of your life!” I smiled at her & wrote down the URL for Post Apocalyptic Bohemia, & answered: “You can… & it has been quite a life, so far.”