|Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center|
At first, Monday went as expected. I wasn't called for any morning panels. We broke for lunch. Afterwards, I resumed my reading. Suddenly about 40 names were called out including mine. We're being transferred to another courthouse further away from where our cars were parked. Apparently, the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Justice Center Building—also known as the Criminal Courts Building— ran out of jurors. Great. We're being sent to a legal meat grinder. Forty of us walked out into a bright sunny afternoon up to Temple, then east down past the LA Cathedral, across Hill Street, through a gauntlet of street folk that included a bald transvestite in women's platform shoes and a cadre of Informal Americans with super sized Styrofoam "donation" cups to the Criminal Courts Building and up to Department 46.
To my surprise and discomfort, I was sworn in on a panel at Superior Court. Our case involved seven misdemeanor counts that included spousal abuse, battery, intimidation, imprisonment, violation of restraining order plus damaging a cell phone thrown in for good measure. (That's what you get for not taking a plea bargain.) I didn't want to sit in a room with a bunch of strangers and decide seven counts. My fondest wish was that the defendant would do the right thing by me and settle.
But no. Not only wouldn't he settle but he claimed not to understand English very well. That meant a translator ghosted everything said by anybody in the courtroom—judge, clerk, bailiff, city attorney, defense attorney, witnesses—from English into Korean. There were two translators and they tagged in and out like wrestlers, warming the seat next to the defendant and keeping the air filled with muttered Korean. It was distracting. You never really got used to it.
Basically, the case came down to this: the victim said her husband punched her lights out one morning with a closed fist, smothered her with a pillow, restrained her until she promised not to call the cops, released her, then chased her into the bathroom, grabbed her cell phone and played keep away until she again promised not to call the cops. She promised and he let her leave.
Once outside she called the cops.
The defendant said via translator that his wife was a crazy cocaine addict who made weird glottal sounds as if she were speaking in tongues. He had accidentally hugged her too hard and that was what had caused the victim's facial injuries. Also his right hand suffered from a preexisting condition that would prevent him from ever punching his wife but not earning a living as a musician.
In addition, the defendant wore a sharp looking gray suit but no socks and running shoes. Where the heck were his socks? Unfortunately you are under orders not to discuss the case with anybody including fellow jurors. To my knowledge, everybody on the panel clammed up. We never discussed the sock angle. Now my fellow jurors are gone and I'm left alone with my memories.
But you can't share that with anyone. And when it's time to deliberate, you can't use it because it's outside the evidence and testimony presented in court and they're all you get to judge the defendant. So no socks and OK English. These remained locked inside of me like valuable jewels kept deep in a bank vault guarded by goblins.
Witnesses came and went; there was cross and re-direct and inquiries and muttered Korean droning on and on. There were cops and a paramedic and a victim friend and a doctor who testified for the defendant, arms folded tightly across his chest as if posing for a painting to be titled "hostile witness."
The court provided you with note pads. You could take notes but had to leave them in the courtroom. The juror sitting next to me used his notebook to doodle an intriguing series of thick arrows along with parallel pencil strokes throwing off shadows. I wondered if he would be thoughtful and wise during deliberations. (I found out.)
Tomorrow: A Pocketful of Koreans