I am called to jury duty this week. Apparently it's my civic obligation to pass judgement on my fellow citizens. If impaneled, I shall be forced to listen to legal blowhards bend the truth through prisms of innuendo and misinformation : two scaly advocates attempting to tip the scales of justice in their client's favor. I'm not sure that Daniel Webster would recognise this theater of cant as a court of law.
The emergence of an approximation of a scintilla of the truth is the best that can be hoped for in such circumstances. Incriminating identifications are made from the reflections of shadows cast on murky water; from fingerprints smeared on fog and jack straws of DNA. Exhibits requiring more explanation than those in any archaeological museum are presented as vital evidence, leaving weary and bewildered jurors to determine innocence or guilt by the toss of a mental coin: do we like the defendant or not? Not, probably. After all, you can't disguise congenital sullen insolence with a collar and tie.
There are roughly two hundred people in the jury pool. Fidgeting in plastic chairs, pacing back and forth, slumped against the walls, we look like immeasurably bored airport passengers waiting for delayed flights to Baltimore, Charlotte, Frankfurt and other interzone hubs. Some read books or peruse iPads and smart phones. Some just stare at the floor. I wonder if anyone else is thinking of the fate of Draco the Lawgiver: suffocated beneath an avalanche of cloaks and hats after delivering a typically enervating speech.
Occasionally the court officer, equal parts troop leader and stand-up comedian, interrupts the dolorous silence with reminders about the importance of our service. As an administrative functionary he is excellence personified, the only court house representative who inspires confidence in this belabored system. Everyone else should go home since we can trust him to act fairly and responsibly as judge, jury and social worker. Alas, not. We must sit here and wilt until a plea bargain is accepted and everyone can home, except, of course, the guilty party.