Jury duty. Again. It doesn’t matter how far away you go, how much time you think has passed or if it seems like yesterday when you received your last notice: Jury duty will find you.

You can put it off — I did — and then you can put it off again — I did that, too — but all my machinations were for naught. The wheels of justice move slowly but relentlessly and eventually roll over you as you lie prone, face down and exhausted in the dust.

I thought about playing the COVID-19 card. That’s not a bad card to play. I’m in the group that is falling like flies, but when the recording from Jury Services said you had to come with face covering, it sounded like they had that excuse covered too.

I believe in jury duty, I think it’s our duty to serve on a jury and put aside our preconceived notions and prejudices and convict people solely on the basis of whether we like their hairstyle or the cut of their jib.

However, I never make it onto a jury no matter how blasé I present myself, my sense being the court does not value flamboyance. I’ve been ushered into a courtroom, been warned by the judge not to talk about the case and been interviewed by both attorneys but I always get excused.

I blame the newspaper. Why not? Everybody else does but in this case, it’s because I work for one.

I am a lifestyle columnist. I write dumb columns. I once wrote a column about the difficulty of carrying a banana to work. That may cast me as desperate and perhaps an idiot, but maybe not somebody with a legal ax to grind.

I have a fantasy. I want to get on a jury and then become the foreman. The foreman who brings people together, promotes a vision of openness and unity and then tells them which way to vote because they fear and respect me.


I forgot my badge but they have that covered. I did remember my parking pass, which allows prospective jurors to park on the other side of the tracks on L Street without having their cars towed to Mojave.

Naturally, there was a train, which necessitated a two-block walk to the overpass by Mechanics Bank Arena. Stairs or elevator? The two people ahead of me chose the stairs and I didn’t want them to think I was slipping so I chose the stairs too.

This was Thursday, Thursday because I had called on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and finally was told to appear on Thursday. Turns out Thursday was a light day. The room was about a quarter full. I tried smiling at people in order to develop some camaraderie in case they ended up on my jury and I had to boss them around but smiling with a mask on doesn't work.

Other than the occasional well-meaning instruction from the jury coordinator, which everybody ignores, there is nothing quieter than a room full of prospective jurors at 9 a.m. on a hot day. People look stunned. It doesn’t help to sneak a glance at the clock because the clock is going backward and taking its time at that.

People almost leap out of their chairs when a bailiff enters the room to collect jurors but when he or she doesn’t, they sink into their chairs and become part of the furniture.

People bring books but the books are never long enough so they look at their phones but there is nothing there either. No one texts you when you’re on jury duty. They leave you twisting in the jury services wind.

You’re on your own. You have no friends. The outside world is dead to you.

At 11 a.m. — or three weeks in normal time — the jury coordinator made an announcement: “The courts do not need any more jurors. You are free to go.”

I would, but I have to learn to walk again. We stumbled out the door but by L Street we were high stepping and in high spirits.

See you in a year or probably next week.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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