Who’s On Trial Here?

When I was living in Tukwila, for some reason I seemed to always get jury summons. I probably averaged one jury summons a year. It would be semi-understandable if it was consistently coming from the same courthouse. However, it came from a variety of sources. I remember getting a couple of summons from King County (from multiple court houses in the County), one from the federal courthouse, a couple from Tukwila, and even one from the city of Sea-Tac. I didn’t even live in Sea-Tac. I remember I called them to ask them why they selected me. They said that they didn’t know and they didn’t care. I had to come down anyway.

One day I received a jury summons for the city of Tukwila. I wasn’t too worried, because Tukwila, at least at that time, was a pretty sleepy town. Really, all there is to Tukwila is the Southcenter mall. I figured I’d go down to the courthouse and listen to stories about young men shoplifting teddies from Victoria’s Secret or something equally nefarious.

I did my civic duty and I showed up bright and early in the morning. At the time that I did this, I was, I think, 29 years old. I was by far the youngest person in the prospective jury pool. It was almost entirely composed of retired men and women. Not only that, but at 29, I still was still getting regularly carded at bars. I probably looked somewhere in my early 20’s at the latest.

Some of these people looked at me and gave me these looks like they could just tell that I’m a wonderful young man who probably makes someone a proud grandparent. I was beginning to bask in these feelings when the judge came in and started things up.

The courtroom itself was a pretty modest affair. It basically looked like the set of a cheap courtroom drama. There were a couple of rows of benches in the back of the room. That’s where we prospective jurors were sitting. There was a little guard rail between these benches and where the lawyer sat. Each side had its own desk, which kind of resembled the old desks that teachers used to have in grade school. In the front of the courtroom was a semi-circular wooden structure. Facing the front of the courtroom, the section on the left was where each witness was sworn in and testified. To the left of the witness box was the jury box. On the right was where the court clerk sat. In the middle in a raised section was where the judge sat.

The judge came in and it was all pretty routine, if somewhat small scale. For example, at the King County courthouse, there’s usually several hundred prospective jurors and there’s at least a dozen or so trials going on. Here in Tukwila, there was maybe 25 or 30 prospective jurors, and there was only one trial.

The judge himself looked to be relatively young, probably something less then 40 years old. Everyone rose as he came in. We all sat after he sat.

I stole a look at the people sitting at the two tables in front of me. On the left was the prosecutor. He was the only one sitting at his table. He was even younger then the judge; probably not even thirty, but already balding. He wore a suit, slightly worn, that looked like it was bought at JC Penney.

On the right was the defense. The defendant was a very attractive young woman dressed in a somewhat provocative, tight clinging dress. The lawyer next to her was probably somewhere in his fifties, portly, and was dressed in an improbably green suit.

The first thing that took place was figuring out what jurors were actually going to sit in on the trial. Usually, I don’t even get called; after which I can just go home. However, this time, my name was the first one to be called. In Tukwila, when your name is called, you actually have to get up and sit in the jury box.

So, I got to sit in the first seat in the front row. The bailiff called the other names. All of the other names were retired men and women and they took their places in the jury box.

Thus did the voir dire process start. Most people know, from the near infinite number of legal shows endlessly broadcast, what the voir dire process is. It’s the chance for the two attorneys to ask questions of the jurors and to determine whether or not they’d be acceptable. They can ask pretty much whatever they want to ask. Since I was the first juror selected, I was the first one to go through the voir dire process.

Before the questioning started, the bailiff came over, made me raise my right hand, and promise to tell the truth. With that, the prosecuting attorney proceeded to ask me questions. He first started by explaining that the case involved illegal touching at the Déjà Vu. This was a local strip club. I immediately started sweating a little.

He started off with pretty basic questions. After some initial questions, for some reason, he asked me if I was married. I’d literally just been married the week before. I mentioned this fact, and all of the retired people perked up and they really proceeded to give me the warm puppy dog looks. You could just tell that they were so proud that I was to embark on this wonderful adventure named marriage and that I was going to very soon bless my lucky parents with that ultimate gift, grand children.

The prosecutor congratulated me and made some further small talk. He then mentioned that it was common for young males before their wedding date to have a bachelor party. He asked me if I’d had a bachelor party. I said that I’d had. He said that many times bachelor parties are held at strip clubs. He asked me where mine had been held. The headlights on this train are now rapidly approaching.

You see, I’d been married less then a week. Just before the wedding, a couple of my buddies had taken me out to the very strip club at which the illegal touching took place.

Let me state at this time that it was not my usual habit to frequent strip clubs.

Keep in mind that I was in my 20’s and I was not yet at the height of respectability and responsibility that I am now at. Also, that maybe I wasn’t as discrete in the selection of my friends as I could have been.

Let us now proceed with the story… I took a deep breath, considered the consequences of lying (jail time) versus the near certain public embarrassment about to occur, and after several beats, responded that it’d been at a strip club.

From the retired people gazing lovingly at me, there was an audible gasp. I think I actually saw one reach for his asthma inhaler. Another dabbed at her eyes with a finely croquet-ed handkerchief.

Before this point, the questioning was somewhat lackadaisical. Upon my confession of my near real-time experience with the strip club underground culture, the prosecuting attorney quickly moved to a position directly in front of me and the defense attorney’s head audibly snapped as he jerked towards me. The comely young defendant smiled knowingly and crossed her legs demurely underneath the table. Even the judge, whose head was nodding gently to some invisible dream music, snapped awake and glared down at me.

The prosecuting attorney asked me which strip club that I’d been to. Totally red-faced and seeing the headlights of the train now beaming directly into my eyes, I somewhat glumly admitted that it was the strip club in question. I was really hoping that admitting this fact would cauterize my public wound and they would quickly kick me off the panel, after which I could slink home in shame.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The prosecuting attorney thought that, since I had such obvious first hand knowledge of the whole strip club scene and since apparently from his point of view I can’t go more then a week without going at least once to a strip club, he began to ask me detailed questions regarding the practices at said establishment.

He asked me if I’d received a lap dance. I’d said yes. He asked me to explain what a lap dance is. So, in open court, I explained that the usual practice was that you’d sit at a table some distance from the dance floor. The DJ / MC would call out some dancer (usually named Desiree or Gabrielle or Monique or Gertrude). This woman would come out wearing a tiny little bra / panties number and dance on the elevated platform. There literally is a pole in the middle of the platform (hence the phrase pole dance) and the women would perform various quasi-dance, semi-gymnastic moves on the platform while liberally making use of the pole as a prop. Various popular songs would be playing while this was taking place (Flashdance, Footloose, Dude Looks Like a Lady). At some point during the dance, the top and bottom of the costume would come off. At the conclusion of the dance, the dancer would put back on her top and bottom and then walk from table to table asking if someone wanted a dance. A straightforward dance, where she’d do basically the same thing that she did on stage but much closer to you would be $5. However, a lap dance would set you back $10.

Since I had friends with me and it was my bachelor party, they each bought me a lap dance (which actually, at this place was called, I believe, a Texas couch dance). After they paid, the girl led me to the dark fringes at the back of the club, where a number of chairs of a quality that you’d find at a young man’s first apartment were set along the back wall of the club. She set me down in one of these, and when the next dancer came out with her song blaring on the sound system, the girl started performing her lap dance for me, which in its entirety consisted of her rubbing her back end in my lap to the beat of the music.

In hindsight, a somewhat sordid business. And all of which, I got to explain, in great detail, in open court in front of a couple of dozen of the elderly who were now convinced that not only was I not a shining example of young manhood but a level three sex offender. There was literally no one making eye contact with me now from my fellow jury pool.

And the prosecuting attorney was relentless. I remember him asking questions like, was the woman dancing for you or was her sole purpose to arouse you sexually? After what seemed to be hours of questioning, he turned to the judge and said that I’d be acceptable to him. I was shocked. I thought at least, if nothing else, I’d get the boot.

I was not done yet. The defendant’s attorney, stood up, and started walking towards me. He started to ask me how I felt about the police. I didn’t have any real special feelings about them one way or another. They have a job to do and it needs to be done. I’m not thrilled to see them in my rear-view mirror, but all in all, I’ve got no problem with them.

He then proceeded to ask me if I’d had any run-ins with the law. Thus, the headlights of a second train started approaching me in the tunnel. You see, approximately two years before, I’d gone to a party with some friends, and had just a little too much to drink. I’d gotten pulled over, did the whole how drunk am I test, and ended up getting arrested.

So, once again, in open court, I’d said yes, I’d had a run-in with the police. He asked me if I’d ever been arrested. I’d said yes, I’d been arrested. At that point, with an audible scraping noise, the lady next to me scooted her chairs six inches further from me.

I got to explain, again in great detail, the details behind that magic night. Why the policeman pulled me over (I was weaving and speeding), what kind of tests were performed, which ones did I fail (walk a line, pivot, walk a line), was I handcuffed, did I spend the night in jail and other interesting facts that I’d not previously shared with anyone, let alone with strangers.

By the time that I was done, I wanted to hide underneath my chair. Even then, after all of that, the defending attorney said that he had no objections to me serving on the jury, so I still didn’t get excused.

Between the two attorneys, I imagine that they spent somewhere close to thirty minutes grilling me. The other potential jurors collectively they blew through in about 15 fifteen minutes.

Before the trial started, the defending attorney said that he had a couple of motions to run through before the trial can start. These were motions that the jury was not to hear, so we were excused to go to the deliberation room.

The deliberation room is a tiny little room with one long table with six chairs. I was the first one in (because I was still in the first chair of the first row). I took a seat at the end of the table. As the other jurors trooped in, they all grabbed chairs and moved to the other end of the table. After all was done, I was by myself at one end of the table and the other five somewhat elderly ladies and gentlemen were all piled together at the other end of the table a safe distance from the alcoholic pervert that was in their midst.

They talked nervously about a couple of topics, studiously managing to avoid all eye contact with me. After several excruciatingly uncomfortable minutes, the bailiff came and thankfully rescued me.

The judge was ready for us again. We trooped back into the court room and took our seats. The judge said that because of reasons that we don’t need to worry about, that the case had been dropped.

The prosecuting attorney sat slumped glumly at his desk. The defending attorney sat with a sly smirk. The defendant looked bored as she sat twirling her long black hair. The judge then thanked us for our service and excused us.

All of the other jury members got up to go. I sat in the chair, shell-shocked. I’d just gone through a public examination of my sins, and then at the end of the day, I didn’t even get to enjoy the fruits of my public humiliation and actually get to experience a trial? Emotionally exhausted, I finally got up to walk slowly to my car. I got in, drove home, and promised to myself that no one would ever learn of this story.

About a month later, I was at the local neighborhood grocery store. I heard a voice whisper, ‘Sssshhh… there he is’. I turned and looked. It’s one of the little old ladies pointing out the local pervert to her outraged, protective husband. Shortly, after that, I moved.

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