I’ve never been on a jury. I was called a couple of times in Chicago, but nothing happened. The first time, I didn’t want to do it. I don’t remember exactly how, but between my employer and school I managed to get out of it. Mind you, this is the town where I once got a traffic ticket fixed with twenty dollars to a courthouse janitor, so avoiding jury duty was a walk.
The next time I was notified, I wanted to be selected so I could get the stipend. That’s how broke I was. I approached it like a job interview. I shaved, wore a suit, and hoped for a long trial. My record was clean, and in those days I even had some faith in the legal system. That’s how naÏve I was.
The case involved a guy trying to blame a tavern for a traffic accident he’d had while driving drunk. Chicago probably still has a dram-shop ordinance that makes a tavern liable for what its customers do after they get their snootful. In the courtroom I tried to look fair and impartial, and I was dismissed along with the other Negroes.
As much as I try to avoid judgment and condemnation—by me, though not of me—I’ve still got a hankering to serve on a jury at least once, to see what I could bring to it. Then I recently got a notice from Butte County saying that my name had come up for consideration.
I’ve now got another crack at being on a jury, and not just your garden-variety jury either, but a Grand Jury, capitalized, no less. Now you’re talking! Fortunately, the Butte County people had the foresight to include an explanation of just what a Grand Jury is, namely “a body of the required number of persons returned from the citizens of the county before a court of competent jurisdiction, and sworn to inquire of public offenses committed or triable within the county.” Got that?
From my reading of the rest of Side 1 of 2, the public offenses that the Grand Jury deals with include any committed by departments of Butte County and specifically “the willful or corrupt misconduct in office of any public officers within the county. The Grand Jury may be asked to listen to evidence presented by the district attorney on criminal matters. . . .” I don’t know who investigates the d.a. Maybe the Grand Jury is grand because it goes after bigger political fish than your average thug, but it’s probably because it comprises nineteen people. They want only “ordinary intelligence” so I’ve got a chance.
“Grand Jury proceedings are required to be secret” too, so if I get picked, mum’s the word.