by V. J. Willis Jr.
Ok, so mine is not a glamorous career. I’m that bureaucrat that everyone hates to hear from almost as much as the IRS. I’m the one who selects candidates and sends the dreaded Notice of Jury Summons to your mailbox. When I started this sadly mediocre job 35 years ago, we didn’t even use computers. I would get a typed list of potential jurors and send out as many notices as the various courts would request of me.
I would tell you where I work, but you’ll soon discover my dirty little secret. It’s a secret that would land me in jail if I was ever discovered. I guess, if I was prudent, I wouldn’t even share this much. Human nature being what it is though, and I being no better at keeping a secret than anybody else, I just have to tell someone, or I’m just going to blurt it out one day.
When I first started my position, twenty-seven percent of the people who showed up for jury duty on a given day found some reason to present to the judge that would result in them being excused from jury duty. My best friend, who is a clerk in one of the courts I supply, was constantly complaining about having to delay cases until the following day so that they might finally amass enough jurors. The excuses that were rendered would be hilarious if you took the time to list them all in a book. I reflect fondly on the many lunches we have shared over the years that would find us laughing so hard over these highly original excuses that we would be reduced to tears.
One of my all time favorites goes something like this: a woman of some means had a Pekinese dog that she had owned for some seven years. To say that the mutt was spoiled would have been an egregious understatement. Anyway, this lady told the judge that her Pekinese was so depressed, that if the pet were to be separated from her for a whole day at a time, it would require several sessions with the dog’s psychiatrist to render treatment. Believe it or not, the judge was so impressed with the woman’s originality and sincerity that he excused her from jury duty right after he quit laughing so hard that he ended up with hiccups.
Anyway, my friend and I came to the conclusion that it would benefit everyone concerned if there were a system in place that would allow for sending jury summons notices to folks who were more likely to be willing to accept jury duty. As the system slowly became digitized, and I was forced to sit through what seemed like endless hours of computer training classes, we developed a system that worked like a charm. It was based on the concept of filters. It seems that one of the things you can do with a data base is to filter out, or eliminate certain pieces of data by setting up parameters that you don’t want included. To put this in layman’s terms, if you didn’t want to send a jury summons to someone born on January 1st, all you had to do was use a filter, and anyone born on January 1st would be dropped from the revised version. Over the years, the data base came to include more and more little tidbits of information that could be used as filters. Government being the way government has always been; they have an insatiable appetite for information.
My friend would tell me what types of people were most likely to be willing to serve on a jury. We parsed several bits of information to identify the types of folks that actually enjoyed jury duty. For example, she discerned that senior citizens were likely candidates for a number of reasons. A senior citizen was typically retired and often bored. After all, you can only watch so much daytime television before you have reached the homicidal level. The older seniors were likely to live alone, since they often had outlived the love of their life. Also, seniors, by virtue of their many years of human interaction, could spot the most subtle of BS factors. This worked quite well until one of the judges mentioned that the jury pool suddenly seemed to be more highly populated with older folks. I guess a 500% increase in the number of seniors was pushing just a bit.
So, we adjusted that demographic down to an increase of about 200%. That seemed to keep the scheme under the radar. At this point, although our actions would have raised some eyebrows since we hadn’t gone through the proper channels and policy change meetings and blah, blah, blah, they really weren’t illegal.
And, that’s how it all started, a simple attempt to make the system a little more convenient and effective for everyone concerned. If we had just left everything else alone, no one would have noticed. But, a little power is addictive. For months we did nothing else to modify things. We counted ourselves lucky that we had improved things a bit, but the very fact that we had pulled it off was the drug that hooked us.
The next parameter we messed with was disabilities. We reasoned that if someone wasn’t working, they had plenty of time to spare. Besides, for a little while, they would find added purpose in their lives, right? I hacked into the DMV database and searched for drivers who qualified for handicap parking permits. It should be an easy fit; after all, the courts had already been fitted to accommodate handicapped visitors and workers. My court clerk friend watched to see if the inclusion of more handicapped worked as well. One thing we failed to consider was that not all handicapped drivers are unemployed. In fact, it seemed that a large portion of handicapped drivers were employed on a full time basis. We removed the increased handicapped population. So, one success and one failure.
This process went on for several years before we hit a brick wall. It wasn’t that it didn’t work. There were two factors that were our downfall. The first was that we became too proficient at our scheme. The second was that someone else found out what we were doing, and unlike us, they weren’t very nice people. In fact, they were the quintessential bad guys. And that, my friends, is the proverbial cliff I must leave you hanging from until the next time.