In the homeless homicide case—a homeless man had been accused of killing his girlfriend—jury selection took over a week.
whiteWhen the jury had finally been chosen, Judge Button said she was surprised the attorneys had picked juror number 7. This juror had admitted to being the victim of a stabbing and had a lot of tattoos. I asked Judge Button why she was skeptical of juror number 7; she said she "just had a feeling."
whiteMidway through the trial, following a lunch break, Judge Button asked all jurors except for juror number 7 to exit the courtroom. The jurors obeyed. I watched the following interaction with bated breath, as though it was a television drama.
white"Juror number 7," Judge Button said in a stern voice.
whiteHe nodded, looking calm.
white"Are you under the influence of any drugs or alcohol at the moment?"
whiteHe shook his head.
white"I need you to answer yes or no for the record."
white"No," he said.
white"Are you on any medication?"
whiteHe shook his head again.
white"Yes or no, juror number 7." Judge Button was becoming agitated.
white"No," he said.
white"Are you being honest with me, juror number 7?"
whiteHe swallowed, but said nothing.
white"One of my colleagues informed me that they saw you stumbling in the hallway."
whiteHe said nothing again.
white"I will ask you again, juror number 7, are you under the influence of any alcohol or narcotic?"
whiteHe opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.
white"I'm an addict." He looked down.
whiteJudge Button's eyes opened wide and then she seemed to force herself to gain composure. "What are you addicted to?" she asked.
whiteJuror number 7 cleared his throat. "PCP."
white"Do you take it every day?"
whiteI wanted Judge Button to end this public shaming. But it felt like she was drawing it out. A dramatic performance piece. Judges always do this. The more desperate the gallery, the longer a judge will take to get to the information everyone craves.
white"Yes," he said.
white"Are you on PCP today?"
whiteHe nodded. "Yes."
whiteBoth of their voices seemed to echo in the mostly empty courtroom. Judge Button looked extra high and mighty up on her bench, and juror number 7 looked extra small and alone in the jury box. Lawyers nervously shifted their papers in the gallery, and I scribbled on my notepad to look occupied.
white"When did you take it?"
white"This morning. Before court. And then at lunch."
white"Have you been on it the whole trial?"
white He nodded.
white"Juror number 7, you are excused," she finally said. I exhaled.
whiteBoom, like that, he was gone. An alternate took his place.
whiteAnd the trial went on.
whiteJuror number 7's dramatic removal took precedence in my mind over the verdict. What I took away from the experience: trial is more a performance than anything else.
white The whole thing made me uneasy.
whiteJudge Button was a former prosecutor, which Fernando had warned me about. Public defenders tended to see prosecutors as the enemy, and I'd been indoctrinated to believe the same during my internship with Fernando. Prosecutors, I'd been told, were politically conservative and morally corrupt. But Judge Button was different. She was progressive. And she had exclusively prosecuted domestic violence cases, as opposed to putting people away for nonviolent drug offenses. She was a feminist.
white"I never wanted to be a judge," she told me early in the internship. "I wanted to be a romance novelist." She looked out wistfully over the orchids on her windowsill. "But my parents thought law was more practical."
whiteI could relate, given that I, too, was an aspiring novelist who had felt compelled to go to law school. I majored in creative writing in college, but I was way too afraid to pursue it as a career. Judge Button proved what I already believed: most lawyers wanted to be something else but had caved in to the pressure of doing something safe and prestigious.