Recently I attended Wild Honey Orchestra’s tribute to the Beatles’ White Album. It was a wonderful concert and my amazing & talented friend Nick Guzman (who has autism) did a duet with Susan Cowsill! But that particular record wasn’t one of my favorite by the Beatles. And song No. 9 on that album was just weird; I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. But it does trigger a memory of when I was chosen for jury duty in 1993. An odd correlation, I know, but as I explain my one and only jury experience, you may come to understand why my thoughts traveled back to that July more than two decades ago.
Let me set the scene: I had just moved to Las Vegas, NV, in March, and by summer I had been summoned for jury duty. For years, I had been able to get out of jury duty because of my cerebral palsy and profound hearing loss. The court system never challenged my medical excuse, which was great because I really didn’t want to serve. It wasn’t because I don’t believe in the justice system, or that I’m not a loyal American citizen. But I was terrified of hearing something incorrectly and jeopardizing someone’s right to a fair trial. Emotionally it was just too difficult for me to take that risk.
As it was, I called the courthouse and said that I could not serve because I had CP, and that I did not yet have a doctor’s note because I had just moved to town. I was then asked how CP prevented me from intellectually comprehending information. Does it affect you cognitively? I said, “No, but I am hearing impaired as well.”
They told me, “Well, we are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can accommodate you,” At that point, I was in sheer panic mode! For years, CP and hearing loss had been considered a valid reason for me not to be on a jury, but with the passing of the ADA I was suddenly expected to serve. I asked her how the court planned to accommodate me. She told me that they would have a sign-language interpreter. I told her that I had never learned sign language.
Then, out of complete fear and lack of all understanding of how the jury system worked, I stupidly added that I couldn’t serve because I was a television actress, a comedian, a celebrity. This statement caused the woman on the line to pause. After an awkward silence, she asked me how being a celebrity prevented me from serving on a jury. “Well, what if the defendant gets convicted of a crime, and they recognize me from Facts of Life, and then targets me later?”
She calmly told me that I was no longer Juror No. 23, but Juror No. 999. I was afraid to ask her what exactly that meant. She also said that I was to show up at the courthouse on Monday and tell the judge everything that I had told her.
On Monday, Jurors No. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and me, No. 999, entered the courtroom. Not only was I recognized from Facts of Life, but everyone laughed! I was in the very back of the room, and could not hear any of the proceedings (my original fear confirmed). So I raised my hand, as I had in high school civics class.
The judge acknowledged me: “Just state your jury number and your issue.”
I said I was Juror No. 999, everyone laughed again, and responding as a comedian, I said, “Well at least I am not Juror No. 666!” The judge pounded her gavel to silence the laughter; clearly she was not happy.
She asked the bailiff to bring me closer so that I could hear. He put me in a chair right next to the defendant! I was close enough to touch him! He looked at me, and out of nervousness, I smiled. He rolled his eyes. After the preliminary proceedings, I ended up being chosen as one of the 12 jurors! I was scared out of my mind. When the judge asked us one more time if there was a reason we couldn’t serve, I raised my hand again.
The judge said, “Yes Juror 999, what is it now?”
I said, “Well, I’m flying to Colorado tomorrow. What if I don’t make it back in time for the trial?”
She said, “When is your returning flight?”
“So how does that interfere with the trial on Monday?”
“There could be weather problems.”
“In July? On a flight between Vegas from Denver? What weather problems do you foresee, Juror 999?”
“Clouds?” I said.
At that point I was told that if I didn’t show up Monday morning, I would be declared in contempt of court.
On Monday the trial began,and the judge informed the court that because Juror 999 was hearing impaired and did not know sign language, that counsels were expected to repeat every question to me personally so that I could read their lips. The ADA was brand new, and the court was trying to abide by it.
My saving grace that Monday morning was a fire drill at 11 a.m. We didn’t get back in the courtroom until 3:30 p.m., by which time the defendant and his counsel announced that instead of proceeding with a trial, they would take a plea bargain. We jurors were all released.
I still believe that some people are not capable of serving on a jury. For me, at the time it was because of my hearing loss. Sometimes I hear “WAWWAWA AND WAWAAWAWA.” I wouldn’t want someone like me on my jury, and I don’t feel confident that I would be fair to all parties concerned for me to serve, period!
To this day, I still don’t know what Juror No. 999 means. I even tried to Google it, but found nada. However intuitively I think it means that I was willing to make up anything and go to any extreme to get out of jury duty.
In actuality, I did not lie. It’s just that my valid reason was not accepted. So you be the judge.
by Geri Jewell