Sunday, August 17, 2008

Competing With A Courtroom Sketch Artist

Last Monday I reported for jury duty at Manhattan Criminal Court—there were about 200 of us milling around the assembly hall with newspapers, books, laptops and Starbucks coffee cups. After a couple of hours the clerk called the names of 80 potential jurors (including me) to go to a courtroom where an armed robbery trial would begin after jury selection.

The voir dire process of jury selection makes you feel pretty good about the fairness of American jury selection. Our own energetic "Judge Judy" peppered the potential jurors with serious questions like this: "If a police officer testifies, would you presume he's telling the truth? Or do you think he'd probably lie?" Along the way, she tossed in a few quirky questions to get inside juror brains: "What do you do like to do for fun?" And this wandering query: "If you could have a ticket to go anywhere, where would you go?"

A courtroom sketch artist came in and she began to make a color sketch of the defendant and the team at defense table. This, of course, triggered my competitive juices. So with notepad in hand I tried to capture the spirit of the event (and it was an event) by using both quick sketches and fragments of the words being spoken, aided and abetted by a few red-boxed captions.

After 74 of the 80 potential jurors had been called up to be grilled by JJ and the lawyers from both sides, the final jury of 12 was selected. That means more than 70 good people answered their questions in ways that either disqualified themselves or put them on somebody's "reject" list. In this jury-pool lottery I was one of the six who remained sitting—uncalled—out in the courtroom.

But if called up for questioning, how would I have swung at this softball: "What do you do like to do for fun?"

Probably would have said: "Draw courtroom sketches..."