What I did on jury duty

Only the fates could land me in J.P. Jones' court

Sitting in one of those hard seats in the cavernous central jury room of the George L. Allen Sr. courts building in downtown Dallas, I knew only two things for certain: That my day was shot to hell; and that I was bored out of my mind.

Well, things change.
It was Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and it seemed every judge in Dallas County was in need of a jury. The room was packed with people--all of them good, stoic souls, sitting quietly with their novels and their knitting, patiently awaiting their separate fates.

I, on the other hand, was not feeling patient at all. This was my third appearance here in less than a year, and while I'm certainly willing to do my civic duty, three times in 10 months is a bit much--especially since I never get picked anyway. After all, nobody wants a nosy newspaper reporter who's married to a plaintiff's lawyer on a jury panel.

Case in point: Last April, I was dispatched to a county court at law in the Records Building, where a young, perfectly able-bodied man was suing Dallas Area Rapid Transit after slipping on a bus on a rainy night. Please. Though my gut reaction--without hearing any evidence, mind you--was to side with DART, I was one of the first to raise my hand when the friendly DART lawyer asked if anyone had any preconceived notions, no matter how trivial, for or against her transit agency. "DART wastes millions of dollars of taxpayer money," I said, offering my honest opinion, "and nobody is going to ride a train that goes 45 miles an hour and stops at every intersection."

I was out of there in 15 minutes.
So last week I was impatient, so impatient that upon my arrival that morning I begged the jury room clerks to put me on a panel right away--pack me off upstairs for a good, hard grilling and a quick strike so I'd be back at work by lunch.

At 10:15 a.m., my prayers were answered--or so I thought. I was summoned to the clerks' office where a group of us were told that our services were badly needed--halfway across the county in Oak Cliff. My heart sank.

The clerk, a woman named Diane Garza, handed me a form letter. "You have been selected to go to the justice of the peace court indicated below," the letter stated. "You will need to provide your own transportation to this court."

I quickly looked to see to which court I was going. My heart soared. "Report to: Justice of the Peace Jones."

Some people have no luck.
Take, for instance, the Hon. Thomas G. Jones.
Here's a man who has been hauled down before the Dallas County grand jury three times in the past year, once for investigation of official oppression and twice for perjury. (Through what I can only attribute to sheer luck and good political connections, he's been no-billed every time.) The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct is investigating him. And since June I've written four columns about his gross incompetence--only Walker Railey and the new sports arena have so captured my attention.

Jones has yelled at me, threatened to have me thrown out of his court, and refused to let me see his court files.

Now, with a fresh new year upon us--with all its attendant opportunities to wipe dirty slates clean--Jones gets me for jury duty. Small world. And quite the wonderful opportunity to see--up close and without fear of the boot--more of this guy's miserable judicial handiwork.

"We are ready for the civil and small-claims docket," the judge said that morning, employing a deadly serious tone as he presided over a generally empty courtroom. The only people there, besides the 12 of us on the jury panel, were four young Hispanics in the front row who looked completely and utterly lost.

"But first I would like to say for those of you not blessed to live in this area, welcome to Oak Cliff, Texas, the finest place in the city," Jones continued, apparently unaware of the central jury room's standard practice of sending him people who live as close to the court as possible. In fact, we were all from this area.

"I am Judge Thomas G. Jones, and to my right is Chief Don Stafford," Jones intoned, launching into a gratuitous description of bailiff Stafford's yeomanlike work history--specifically "31 years and two months" with the Dallas Police Department. "He heard that I needed some help over here so he took retirement and came over here to serve as our bailiff. Because of his help, we were recently, through the indication of the commissioners' court, cited as the No. 1 court in Dallas County," Jones continued. "We were very pleased about that."

Too bad the county commissioners have no frigging idea what he's talking about. "No. 1?" one of them told me when I later asked them about Jones' brag. "No. 1 at what?"

Perhaps Jones noticed my feverish note-taking--or my nonsense detector flashing wildly. I don't know. But a few moments later, he toned it down considerably. "You did come to the No. 1 J.P. court in Dallas County--as far as the paperwork we get," Jones said.

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