Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2005/ 5 Elul, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Serving My Time | I guess it might be said that I'm a responsible citizen. I'm doing my civic duty to my community because I'm serving my time on a jury in downtown Los Angeles. I reported for jury duty the week before last and was chosen that first day to serve on a panel. I was selected as an alternate juror at first, then when a juror had to drop out, my status rose to full-fledged juror number eleven.

Two weeks later the trial is still not over — delayed a week because one of the litigants took sick, then because the judge was leaving town for his Labor Day vacation. All this delaying meant that some of the jurors, four to be precise, simply could not continue past the initial two weeks. The judge had two options — declare a mistrial or allow the eight remaining jurors to decide the case. After much discussion by the lawyers it was decided to let the eight of us finish the trial. We reconvene next Monday.

I should mention at this point, just in case you had the impression that this is some sort of exciting, flamboyant, sexy movie star case, forget it. It is about as far from that as you could get. I can't divulge too much about it (we're swore to secrecy you know), but I can tell you that it is a very dry, civil matter involving the sale of a business. Even the business itself is a boring business. Lots of charts and graphs with columns of figures and accounts receivables and accounts payables and business plans and profit and loss statements and, well, you get the idea.

However — if you expect me to complain about this whole thing now, you are about to be disappointed. I'm actually kind of enjoying it all. No kidding. It really isn't too bad. Since I have been in a sort of semi-retirement of late, jury service has given me a reason to get up in the morning again. I get showered, dressed, drive downtown, park the car, and after buying a cup of coffee, leisurely walk over to the courthouse to meet my fellow jurors.

There's something very civilized about being involved, even for a little while, in the legal system. I am a small cog in the big wheel that is American jurisprudence and it feels good. I nod to the attorneys as I walk into the courtroom and take my seat in the jury box. I sit listening to the evidence presented and the testimony being given and I know that my opinion is extremely important to the two sides doing battle in this case. Like a cute young girl being wooed by two suitors, the plaintiffs and defendants try desperately to win me over. It's a heady sensation to have such power, even for only a short time.

Besides, they pay us $15 a day plus 34 cents a mile for gas one-way. Not a fortune, but better than nothing.

Lunch is about an hour and a half and gives us plenty of time to walk over to one of the cafeterias located in the several city office buildings around the area. My fellow jurors and I have become pros at this after two weeks and we know which place has the best selection of food at the best price. We head for the Department of Water and Power building. Good variety of eats, cheap prices, and they even have a pleasant outdoor patio.

After eating I have ample time to walk around the neighborhood before going back to court. Unfortunately the architecture in this part of town leaves a lot to be desired. Most buildings are from the sixties and later so there is very little history to enjoy — the Los Angeles Times building and city hall being the sole exceptions. If ever there was a city devoid of any sense of history and preservation, LA is the place.

One day I walked to the Times building and thought I'd check out the general area for one of those great old reporter's hangouts you always see in classic movies. You know the kind of joint — the place where the gruff old newspapermen would gather at the end of the day for a few stiff drinks and a good cigar. An old-time spot where the city desk editor would have a steak sandwich and fries for lunch washed down by a dry martini or two. The sort of bar and grill that you might find Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell cozily sitting in a back booth under framed news clippings hanging on the wall.

If there ever was such a place (and I'm pretty sure there must have been) it is long, long gone. About the best I could come up with was a bar up the street from the paper called "Redwood" which is now boarded up (even though oddly the neon sign is still lit). Outside of that there is a restaurant called the "Epicenter" at the end of the same block located in a small hotel. Although the place has a bar, it does not have the ambiance I was looking for. I just couldn't see Clark Gable leaning up against the bar complaining to Spenser Tracy that he was taken off the big crime story and given the dog show to cover.

Still, there is a modicum of adventure to be had on the streets of downtown Los Angeles providing one looks for it and has a good imagination. And it is really nice to walk city streets again, even LA city streets. Walking in a 60's redeveloped city without a soul is still better than walking in a shopping mall.

So I will return to my courtroom next Monday all dressed up and ready to be romanced again by the litigants in this trial. I can't wait. Did I mention they pay us $15 a day plus 34 cents a mile for gas one-way?

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby