Liz Farrell

The real injustice happening in Beaufort County? No cellphones in the courthouse | Opinion

Editor’s note: This is a reprint from a column that originally ran April 20, 2016. Columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell once again has jury duty at Beaufort County Courthouse today. She fears she won’t be chosen this time either.

When you tell people you have jury duty, their reaction is almost always invariably this: “Ugh. I’m so sorry.”

And their instinct is to share outlandish ways you can get out of it.

“Say you’re a Martian.”

“Tell them your occupation is ‘first lady Michelle Obama.’

“Do you own a Free Charles Manson T-shirt?”

This is what happened when I told people I had jury duty at Beaufort County circuit court this past week.

One friend, though, told me I wouldn’t get picked, that no one would want me at all.

It cut deep.

I asked her why she thought this.

“You’re a journalist,” she said, as if this made the imaginary rejection any less hurtful.

“They’d better want me!” I snapped.

I’m the ideal juror because I’m a journalist. I pay attention to detail. I’m interested in process. I am aware of my personal biases and strive not to let them interfere with how I receive information. I search for truth. I can recall facts without embellishment. And I already know how terrible humans are.

Also, I watch “The Good Wife.”

Weeks earlier, I had received my jury notice from Jerri Ann Roseneau, the county’s clerk of court.

“It will be a pleasure to serve, ma’am,” I said to her printed name.

I skimmed the notice. Saw the date. Noted that I needed to record my mileage from home to the courthouse. And I sent back the attached questionnaire.

The night before I was due in court, I read the information a little more closely.

Well, hold up now. No cellphones?

“How many miles from home to here, Ms. Farrell?” I suddenly pictured Roseneau asking when I got there Monday.

“Thirty-three point nine million. … I am a Martian. I live on Mars. In a gated community, of course. Community pool. One gas grill for us to share but hardly anyone uses it. … I would hate for taxpayers to absorb the cost of this commute.”

No. Cellphones.

My hand is shaped like a cellphone holder at this point, so it’s going to look very strange out of context. Also, how am I going to kill time without my Kindle app, my digital magazines, my New York Times crossword app and 4,000 photos of my dog sleeping like a cat?

Society is right. The American judicial system is broken.

On Monday morning, I stood in front of my bookcase and pulled the last book I remember having started. A paper boarding pass marked where I had last read, yet another printed item I haven’t touched since Obama’s first administration.

I couldn’t believe how unnaturally bulky the book felt in my hands now. When I pulled it out of my bag at the courthouse, I thought for sure someone was going to ask “Why’d you bring a home decoration with you?”

As I waited in the Jury Assembly Room, I fantasized about being able to Google the questions in my head.

The book I was reading contained an essay from the 1970s about Fats Goldberg. It described him as owning a pizza restaurant solely for the purpose of finding a wife. I needed to know immediately if he ever found one.

Without Google, I was forced to listen instead to many dozens of people occasionally talk about not wanting to be selected for one of the ever-dwindling cases on the docket that week.

“Maybe I’ll wink at the prosecutor,” the juror behind me joked to the guy next to him. (His Winkiness was later chosen to sit on the jury.)

I felt above it. Give me all your cases, I thought ... until my seatmate mentioned the O.J. trial.

“The jurors were treated like prisoners,” she said in a tone usually reserved for a ghost story. “They were sequestered for eight or nine months. They couldn’t even use the hotel pool.”

I NEED TO GOOGLE THIS.

In the courtroom, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the judge, most of the lawyers and all the administrative staff at the front were women.

It was suddenly clear why there is a Talbots less than a mile from the courthouse.

There was even a female bailiff, whom Roseneau introduced as “our lady bailiff.”

What does a lady bailiff do, you ask?

The same thing as a male-iff.

But better … obviously.

Judge Carmen Mullen took us through a series a questions that offered us many different ways we could get out of serving. Not a single one of them was, “Please stand if you require constant access to Google,” though.

After a few relieved souls were sent on their way, it was on to the actual jury selection.

We were down to three cases.

My first choice was Mullen’s burglary case. My safety was Judge Michael Nettles’ civil case involving an estate and a car crash.

I was chosen for neither. My hopes now rested in this mysterious “third case” we had heard about.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mullen said to us after another wait, during which I badly wanted to Google the correct pronunciation of “juror.” Is it joor-ur or joor-RAWR, like Nettles called us?

“I have some good news,” she said.

We, the remaining jurors, weren’t needed anymore.

We won’t be needed for another three years.

There was no order in the courtroom. A sailor kissed a nurse. People had ticker tape in their hair. Five Marines and a hospital corpsman raised a flag by the witness stand. The lady bailiff pulled out a fife AND a drum.

(The male-iffs were still trying to get out of their chairs.)

After the candle vigil for our fallen jurors, I ran to my car and into the arms of my iPhone ... so I could finally read about Fats Goldberg.

He died in 2003.

There were no surviving relatives.

Columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in political science and writes about a wide range of topics, including Bravo’s “Southern Charm.” She has lived in the Lowcountry for 15 years, but still feels like a fraud when she accidentally says “y’all.”
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