Down The Rabbit Hole: My Adventures In Judicial Bureaucracy

While I must admit that I enjoy being part of the judicial process, they must enjoy me even more: I’m 31, and I’ve been called to serve five times. The first time was when I was sixteen. I’m not sure how exactly that happens, since it would have been illegal for me to serve at that age, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that I had just filed my first tax return, thanks to my work as a counselor-in-training the year before. The next two times I was called were standard, and I even served on a case –third time’s the charm–which sort of crushed my spirits, in that it was filled with constant starts and stops: four times, we were dismissed within the first hour, as the court had failed to procure a Vietnamese translator; several other times, the court had to file us out of the room so that the judge could correct a severely unprepared lawyer without impacting our judgment. (Or something to that effect.)

And then I moved. Normally, you’re called every six years or so, and you’re given proof of service in case they grab you too early, which is a great way of putting the onus and legwork on the already overtaxed citizen to “get out of” service. So just a few years after serving on the one case, I served on another, in a different borough–and while I might have disputed it, I was unemployed at the time, and figured I might as well be at the government’s disposal. No harm, no foul, I thought. Well, at least I *did* think that, until receiving my fifth summons within fifteen years. As it turns out, my old address was still on file somewhere, which led to me being asked to serve once again, and despite the fact that I had proof of service with a different court, the agents were unable to resolve this over the phone, as the records were sealed to each borough. They could mail *me* proof of service, but they couldn’t mail it directly to the court, and–as I found out–neither could I, at least not with any reliable assurance of a response. Instead, I had to march down to good old 60 Centre Street and void the summons in the most laborious way. I also had to deal with two sleepy yet aggressive clerks who couldn’t understand that I wasn’t there to postpone my service, but to present proof of service and a different address.

Ultimately, big government won out. They were able to cancel my service, but not to change my address–despite having me in the room, with all the proper documentation and forms. That’s because, as I learned, this archaic behemoth of a bureaucracy pulls potential jurors from a pool of not one, not two, but five different institutions. It doesn’t look for the most recently updated information–that’d be from the DMV, in my case–and it doesn’t resolve any conflicting data; instead, the fact that I was once on unemployment, or once voted in an old district, could result in my address being pulled. Surely there’s got to be a more efficient way for the government to track its citizens? If the government wants my most up-to-date information, they’ve got yearly tax returns–any address they find for me should be compared to those. (That’s a great way for them to catch me in an audit, too, so it’s a win-win for them.) And honestly, that should be their responsibility: I’m willing to serve, but only if you’re willing to do me the courtesy of treating me like the human being you so desperately need and want to populate a courtroom with, and not just some crunched and discarded bit of data. Let’s be civil, especially for a civil case, no?

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