Letter from
Muni Court
Part I
They say that the secret of retirement is to avoid moping around the house. At my house, moping is counter-indicated in any case both by the house ghosts and by the insect life.

The ghosts, an elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz, apparently perished in the house a generation ago but declined to leave. They do no real harm, if you don't mind creaking doors that open and close on their own, semi-transparent figures passing through the wall from time to time, and occasionally sounds of Polish patriotic music coming out of nowhere.

The insects are a little more bothersome, as I will explain later on. As it happens, civic obligation helped me to avoid any moping tendency two weeks ago, when a summons to jury duty sent me downtown to the Courthouse for a spell.

My experience in the local Municipal Court was unfortunately all too brief. After a day of treading water in the jury pool, I was called up for the court of Judge Kondo, an impassive Chinese lady reminiscent of Wu Chao, the Buddhist Empress of the T'ang Dynasty. In the voir dire proceeding before the trial, we were all asked a series of trick questions. The strangest of these, I thought, was: Which figure in the trial would you most like to be?

One of my compeers, in an obviously misjudged attempt to flatter the court, asserted that he would most like to be the judge. The majority of the other jurors opined they were happy as they were, as simple jurors. I was charmed by one young woman who said that she would really like to be a Bailiff; I wondered who else would opt for security guard, doorman, or night janitor. When my turn came, I was careful to address the imperturbable Judge Kondo as "M'lud," and explained that I would settle for any of the roles except that of either attorney. I expected that this answer would get me a peremptory challenge by at least one of the two attorneys, but they unaccountably let it pass.

Finally, we jurors were empaneled, and Judge Kondo directed a fifteen-minute recess before the start of trial. Our Bailiff led us out into a conference room, warned us not to discuss the trial, the judicial system, or the furniture in the courthouse, and promised to come back for us in ten minutes. We didn't see her again for two hours.

During the wait, we began chatting about our various recollections of the film Twelve Angry Men. Since we had been asked to role-play in the voir dire, our discussion naturally turned to which parts in that film each of us would prefer to play. The young lady who wanted to be a Bailiff complained that the script didn't even include a Bailiff, as far as she could remember, or for that matter any women. I modestly forbore to claim the Henry Fonda role, and chose instead to settle for George Voskovec. A retired engineer in our group agreed to do the chilly bank executive, E. G. Marshall. We had the kinks in the script pretty well ironed out when, finally, our Bailiff returned.

Instead of taking us back to the courtroom, she led us through a maze of hallways to turn us over to a new Bailiff, who led us to still another conference room. We were told the trial would begin in a different courtroom in few minutes, and warned never to discuss the quality of the wall-hangings in either our former conference room or the new one.

After another two-hour wait, the second Bailiff returned to tell us that the whole operation had been declared a mistrial, even before the trial began, and dismissed us all. I was guessing that they discovered my presence on the jury: They no doubt feared that I would undermine the entire judicial system by slighting the wall-hangings, or by persuading the other jurors to take the wrong roles or listen to atonal music.

But now, my appetite for power has been whetted. I'm ready for jury duty again anytime, any place, and this time I am aiming for the Henry Fonda part (juror #8) or at least Martin Balsam (the jury foreman). If that doesn't come through, well, the office of Hospodar of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth was open last time I noticed, in the late 15th century. Maybe the deceased couple who haunt my house could advise me on how to seize it.

Go on to
Part II

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