The Parent Trap: one day, one trial, one belt

Somewhere in the halls of the Criminal Justice Center, somebody else was wearing my belt. It might not even have been his fault, but I was the one holding up my pants for the rest of the day. Welcome to jury duty.

I began to dread the prospect of jury duty from the moment I received my summons in the mail. This is not uncommon for most of us – nobody wants to put a hold on their lives to become a member of a jury of their peers, passing judgment on someone who probably wasn’t a peer to begin with. But jury duty is one of the unfortunate perks which comes from being a registered voter. The other perk is voting for politicians, but that’s another story.

Most of the potential juror’s day is spent waiting. You wait to walk through the metal detector, to be called to a panel, to be put in line, to enter a courtroom and for the judge to arrive. “The last time that I stood in a line like this, it was for a trip to the museum,” I mused to my fellow jurors. It also reminded me of the lines of cows in a slaughterhouse, with the happy bailiff moving us along.

You can say what you want about other city services, but the people who work at municipal court know what they are doing. Everybody involved, from the bailiffs to the judges on the bench, knew that we didn’t want to be there that day. Yet they made the experience as painless as possible for everyone.

My first panel was a criminal trial, and I was amazed when the defendant stood up, looked at us all, waved and said “Hi, everybody.” I was dismissed from the case and sent to lunch, where I once again stood in line. At least this time, I was given a roast beef sandwich in return.

At this point, I still had my own belt. The belt had set off the metal detector earlier in the day, and I was forced to quickly remove it, holding up everyone behind me. Determined not to delay the line again, I deliberately rolled up my belt before I entered the detector, and let it slide under the camera/conveyor.

It was not a particularly nice belt, just a slim black model that after years of wear, fit my waist pretty well. But someone ahead of me either didn’t look closely enough or felt that he needed a leather upgrade. His sorry excuse for a belt waited for me on the other side, worse for wear and too small for my expanding frame.

“Do I have to put my initials in my belt like I’m in sixth grade?” I wondered to no one in particular as I continued to hitch up my pants. I didn’t have long to ponder my belt’s demise, since I was immediately called for another panel, this time for a civil trial. Since the trial was being held next door at City Hall, the line of people now had the look of a field trip.

“You’ll be out of here by 5:30 tonight,” a bailiff joked to us earlier in the day. Upon exiting City Hall at 5:15 p.m., we realized that he was not that far off the mark. One day, two panels and two ultimate dismissals later, I walked to the subway station, thankful that my civic duty had ended. I have a check coming to me in a couple of days, which will be going to good use. Now what should I buy…

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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