Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Jury Duty.

I know this doesn't have much to do with jazz, but I thought some people might find it interesting. Because a "jury summons" in Orleans Pariah is a different kind of experience.

At least I assume it is, cause I've always managed to avoid these kinds of things in the past, mainly by taking the cranky, anarchist stance of not voting because it "only encourages them," and because then "the government has your name on another list." Then came the 2004 presidential election, and I decided the state of the union was so dire that I had to bite the bullet and take the plunge. I voted for Kerry (fat lot of good that did ) and for Obama (we'll see, but it's not looking good). And then, a couple of weeks ago, I got that dreaded little red-lettered summons in the mail.

I'd gotten one before and was enormously relieved to see that it had been delivered to the wrong address. Some poor bastard in the thirty two hundred block of St. Philip was on the hook, not me. Boy, he was not thrilled when I brought it down to him either. But this time it was for me, and since it said, it big red letters, "failure to appear may result in fine or imprisonment," and since it's conventional wisdom around here that the Orleans Parish Criminal Justice system has a real thing for slinging people willy nilly into the OPP jail and is not to be messed with, I figured I better show.

At the appointed hour of 8:30a.m. I was at the Broad St. courthouse, along with a whole gang of very unhappy looking people. Since I hold a whole raft of opinions that are box-office poison to prosecuting attorneys (do the police ever lie? Of course they do, just like the rest of us. Do you support the death penalty? No, because the justice system, like every other human endeavor, is wildly imperfect, and I'm not a big fan of making those kind of 'mistakes') I figured I'd be gone by lunch. But it was not to be.

The Orleans Parish jury system, possibly because the demographic of people without felony convictions in New Orleans is rather shallow, slings a wider net than most other places. I was not just required to show up one morning, voice my dangerously liberal opinions, be vetoed by the prosecuting attorney during voir dire and sent home in time for lunch. Instead I was to show up at 8:30a.m. every monday and wednesday for the entire month of february, and, get this, get shuffled through all twelve coutrooms in the system until their dockets had been cleared. If I'm not selected for one jury I return to the jury lounge to await a call for the next.
Unconcionably early and not at all bright, I arrived last monday at the 'jury lounge,' (after of course first passing through the metal detector) along with a couple of hundred other tired, pissed-off looking people. Around 9:00a.m. a guy comes in wearing a blue blazer and gray slacks (only the blazer is the kind of electric blue worn by airline ticket agents), leans into a mic and says "good morning." After getting a few mumbles and grunts, he leans in again and says "Who dat" and gets the thunderous response he's looking for (for the uninitiated and non-New-Orleanian, "Who dat?" is an abbreviation of the New Orleans Saints fan's tribal war whoop, "Who dat say gonna beat them Saints.") and announces he's a judge, and procedes to lay the voodo down. We will be rrequired to sit here pretty much exactly like a bunch of two dollar hookers awaiting our call, until one of the judges in the 12 courtrooms upstairs announces he or she needs a jury, and which point we'll be lead up to the appropriate courtroom, questioned by both prosecuting and defense attorney's regarding our various quirks and pregudices, instructed further in the law by the presiding judge and, if deemed acceptable by all parties, sworn in as a juror and paid $20 a day for our trouble. If not, it's back to the jury lounge for the next cattle call.
From conversations with those around me (and since this is New Orleans, there's plenty of conversating) I learn that we're a pretty eclectic bunch. We actually are a pretty good cross section of the city's population. Visually, the crowd is maybe 60-40 African-American (again, about like the city) and there's all kinds; employers, employees, professionals, laborers, retired people, a couple of guys who look like thugs but turn out to be counter help at Auto Zone. A guy who owns a fence company. A retired high school teacher.
The first call is for 75 potential jurors, and as they read the names off, it feels like the grim reaper setting down and spiriting people away. Most of us don't want to go, because it offers the possibility of wiping out the rest of the day, whereas if we just sit down here we're told the dockets are usually cleared by 1:00p.m. I don't teach anything before 2:00p.m. mondays and wednesdays, so it's possible this whole thing won't inconvenience me beyond loss of sleep and weekends in the office to make up for the administrative stuff and personal practising I usually do in my office in the mornings. 75 jurors are called and I'm not among them.
Next round, I'm not so lucky. Potential jurors are numbered, then called by name. When the next round is called, the first thing out of the speakers is "juror number one. John Doheny."
to be continued.

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