Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Citizen's Duty, Part III

(photo caption) St. Paul's City Hall / Ramsey County Courthouse is on the right side of the photograph. Begun in 1928, the City Hall complex benefited by cheap construction costs following the stock market crash of 1929, and was subsequently adorned with exquisite marble to highlight its Art Deco design.

Being in the jury pool is a bit like possessing a lottery ticket.

Every half-hour or so, they would announce a new number of a jury pool that was to go before the court for jury selection. And each time, if you looked around the room, over a hundred heads would be bowed, intently gazing at their jury letter to see if they had been selected.

I went through this process three times. And I lost all three lotteries.

Feeling a little self-conscious, inept, and insignificant, I embraced the announcement that we were recessing for lunch. "Be back at 1:30," we were instructed. I looked at my watch: 11:30.

Downtown St. Paul is your typical big-yet-small city. The city wants to embrace its rich history and heritage; real estate developers want to embrace the financial possibilities of dismantling old buildings and constructing new ones. Like many cities, St. Paul lives on the precipice of this reality, struggling to cope with the new while preserving the past.

Sitting in Rice Park might be the best way to view this conundrum. A one block-by-one block square, Rice Park is without question the most celebrated and most visited park in downtown St. Paul.

The park is bounded on the north by the historic Landmark Center, a turn-of-the-century building which once housed the post office. Now, the Landmark Center houses weddings, wedding receptions, and infrequent visitors to a small, non-publicized museum.

On the east side of the park is the famous St. Paul Hotel. Posh. Up-scale. Snooty. Temporary home to society's elite whenever they should visit St. Paul. My favorite story of the St. Paul Hotel is when one of my alcoholic friends was sitting at the bar at the hotel at 3 pm one afternoon. A group of young, well-dressed and groomed men came into the room. A few sat next to my friend. He noticed they spoke in quasi-French accents. My friend asked what they did. "I play hockey." For who? "The Montreal Canadiens." Really? What's your name? What position do you play? "I'm Jose Theodore (pronounced: ho-say tay-oh-door). I play goalie." The name didn't click with my friend. Why would it, really? Theodore's only one of the best goalies in the NHL; an All-Star. My friend asked him to sign a cocktail napkin. Then proceeded to lose it by the time he got home.

The south side of the park features the grand St. Paul Public Library. The library has Greek columns, lots of books, and competes with the Landmark Center for wedding receptions.

And the west side of the park is the glitzy and relatively new Ordway Center. The Ordway is home to only the most high-brow of operas, Broadway shows, and the like. And it sticks out like an architectural sore thumb when viewed against its more ancient neighbors.

Eschewing the stylistic paradox that is downtown, I wandered over to the more seedy 7th Street to enjoy my multiple hour lunch. After checking-in with my uncle and cousin at their antique shop, I had a digestive decision on my hands: luscious Italian fare at Cosetta's or subdued, yet homey, cuisine at the Cabin Fever Cafe.

A $5.75 sandwich and coffee combo later, I left Cabin Fever and wasted some time by walking around the historic homes at Irvine Park, including that of Minnesota's second governor, Alexander Ramsey, whose home is now dying a slow death as a rarely-visited historic site.

As I once again found my seat in the jury waiting room, I tried to find the page in my book that I had left off on. Tuchman was talking about the hypocrisy of the 14th Century Catholic Church and how the public was largely indignant towards the clergy. What happened between then and now?

I had barely gotten settled when I won the "lottery" and would be a potential jurist in a criminal trial. Before I could leave this jury purgatory, I had to ditch my book, my Nalgene bottle, my gum, and my knit cap -- all impermissible in the court room. As best I could tell, juries were to be illiterate, dehydrated, ill-breathed, and chock full of hypothermia. Whatever.

I took a seat on a long, wooden bench, giving myself as much personal space as I could. I tried to follow along as the judge went through his instructions and admonishments, but I kept finding myself transfixed on the pattern of sunlight cascading into the courtroom through those wooden blinds. There was a lot of dust in the room for the sunlight to play with.

I made the first cut of jurists and took a seat in the jury box as a potential jurors. My hopes and dreams were quickly dashed, however, as I listened to the series of "let's-get-to-know-you" queries the judge guided us through.

One question doomed my fate: "What did your father do for a living?"

"Police officer."

Now, in a civil case, this probably wouldn't have been a big deal. In a criminal case, however, I was a snowball in the defense attorney's hell. Ain't no way I was getting selected.

And this reality is fascinating to me. If I would have said that I was racist against the illegal immigrant from Honduras who was accused of carrying-out a burglary in Frogtown, I would have suffered the same fate as I was now awaiting since my pops was a cop.

Racist? Gone. Son of a cop? Gone.

They never asked if my girlfriend is Hispanic. They never asked if I have ever had any really positive interactions with immigrants from Latin America, which I do on a daily basis.

Cop's kid? Gone.

I did the best that I could to remain cognizant of the remaining proceedings, but one thought kept rolling through my mind: I have to go back to work tomorrow. Damn!

I was finally excused, collected my courtroom-prohibited gear, and vacated the premises.

Jury duty was over. It was 4:30 pm.


Anonymous super rookie said...

lame, eh.

i thought you were holding out from telling us what was happening from the Vick trial!

see you friday...saturday

Sun Jan 29, 08:07:00 PM 2006

Blogger Tuffy said...

That's exactly what I was hoping you'd think -- that's why I waited.

And that's precisely the point of my post: I could never have found Evans guilty. You've got a cop, who was reportedly also an alcoholic, out with his partner, off the clock, driving a city car (which is illegal on two different levels), gets in an argument and gets shot. The defense would've never put me on the jury, but I would've been their best chance.

Here's a note to aspiring lawyers out there: just because someone is related to a cop doesn't mean they'll always side with the cops. Pops has told me way too many stories about some of the morons who wear blue for me to be so black/white about it. It's the most asinine strategy a defense lawyer can play.

Sun Jan 29, 09:45:00 PM 2006

Anonymous Downtown Saint Paul Defender said...

I'm wondering if you went into the buildings around Rice Park that you described in your post, or if you are getting your information from somewhere. It seems like you have heard about the places, and not actually taken the time to enter the buildings to find out what they are all really about. St Paul Central Library, The James J. Hill reference library(which is the one that holds weddings, not the Central library), Landmark Center, the Saint Paul Hotel and The Ordway Center have much more than meets the onlookers eye.
I appreciate your opinion of these places in Saint Paul, but I do not believe it is an informed one.

Wed Feb 01, 10:38:00 AM 2006

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