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JOURNALIST'S JURY DUTY: READING, SLEEPING.

Byline: Dennis McCarthy

For the next few weeks, my body and mind belongs to the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.

I've been ordered to report for jury duty today.

If the courts say sit in judgment, I sit in judgment. If they say go home, I go home. If they say sit on your butt all day, McCarthy, and read a paperback, I'll sit on my butt all day and read a paperback.

Jury duty is the cornerstone of our American judicial system, and I, for one, am not about to mess with it, O.J. or no O.J.

What's interesting is to see the reaction of people when you tell them that you're going to be out of circulation for a few weeks serving your county.

They look at you like you just sent your last 20 bucks to some TV evangelist.

``What are you, nuts?'' they say. ``You couldn't get out of jury duty? What kind of loser are you? Everybody beats jury duty.''

Makes you break out in patriotic goose bumps, doesn't it? You're a sap for not figuring out a good lie to get out of serving.

I've yet to run into a person who slapped me on the back and said, ``Good show, old man. Give 'em hell.''

Most people dodge jury duty by throwing away the questionnaire the courts send out in the mail to see if serving will be a personal hardship, or if your company is too cheap to pay your salary while you are off work fulfilling one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

But the courts began to wise up when the mail coming back to them wasn't nearly as heavy as the mail they were sending out to find some red-blooded Americans without any felony convictions - a dwindling commodity.

The courts began to follow up with phone calls to see why law- abiding citizens hadn't returned their questionnaire - why they hadn't jumped at the opportunity to balance the scales of justice toward whatever biases they may hold near and dear?

``Can you be a fair and impartial juror?'' the judge always asks at the outset of jury selection.

``Absolutely, your honor. The defendant looks guilty as hell to me.''

I want to go on record right now as being a guy who has developed some serious biases over the years when it comes to crime and punishment.

I'm not quite ready to give car thieves the chair, but I'm getting close.

If your case is coming up for trial in the next few weeks, don't worry, though. Newspaper reporters rarely get picked to serve on a jury.

We normally just sit around the jury pool room all day reading paperbacks and napping because nobody trusts us.

As near as I can figure, there's something inherently dysfunctional and untrustworthy about people who choose a career in journalism that seems to turn off both the prosecution and defense.

Neither side wants to see us on their jury. I don't think they can figure out if we're all a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals or closet Branch Davidians.

We're right up there with cops' relatives and mothers of mass murderers on the peremptory challenge list.

I can't blame them. If pushed, I couldn't pick 12 fair-minded journalists I'd be willing to have on my jury, either. We're all jaded.

After 25 years of chasing stories on crime and punishment, and turning over dozens of rocks to meet some real lowlifes in this town, you'd have to be brain dead not to form some pretty heavy biases on what's broken and needs some fixing.

So, why do the courts bother calling guys like me to serve on jury duty when nobody wants to see us sitting in that box? Beats me. I can't figure it out.

The last time I was called up for jury service was about 12 years ago at the Criminal Courts building in lovely downtown Los Angeles.

In two weeks, I didn't get picked to serve on one jury, but some guy did try to pick my wallet in the crowded elevator on the ride up to the jury room.

I didn't get the chance to send one criminal to jail, but I did finish three paperbacks and learn to sleep sitting up.

So, serving my county wasn't an entire waste of time.

MEMO: Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 13, 1996
Words:735
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