Jury Duty

No one really wanted to do jury duty except me.

Per my summons I reported at 8 am to the jury administration room of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Only I was almost late because of an access problem. The parking attendants had directed us all to Level B.

Dozens of prospective jurors in their cars were driving down into the underground structure as directed. Level B, however, did not have any accessible parking spaces for my van. Guess they were not used to disabled persons showing up for jury service. Since the wheelchair lift is in the back I could use a regular space and thought no more about that.

Next would come the elevator challenge. Although there was a ramp up to the elevator platform the parking garage designer had placed parking space No. 53 right in the pathway of the ramp so no one could really use it if there was a car there. In this case one of my least favorite vehicles, a huge black SUV, was squeezed into the space leaving absolutely no room to get to the elevator.

I am not fond of SUVs primarily because on more than one occasion these tanks (actually their drivers, usually on cell phones) have nearly run me over at crosswalks in the streets of LA. Besides, a good friend and disability advocate (a walking person) had been killed by one of these monstrosities several years ago as he crossed the street in Santa Monica after work one evening.

Rob¹s head had been crushed like a melon by the giant wheels of the SUV. The driver later claimed he had not realized that he had run over anyone and told Rob¹s ex wife that he “never felt anything.” I thought, this oversized sucker would sure know that he had hit a 260 pound wheelchair — but what difference would that make? I would still be flattened as easily as silly putty into the pavement.

Braving the oncoming jurors¹ cars in a rush to get parking spaces I wheeled my way back up the driveway to the first parking level. Ah, there was a clear ramp on Level A and I got on the elevator.

Next came security. Of course the metal on the wheelchair set off the alarm when I went through it. Security came over to do a personal search of me and my chair. It was not very thorough, I could have come up with a dozen ways to conceal a weapon if I had wanted to. Maybe my cheerful smile dissuaded them from dismantling the chair to find out if I had. Anyway, that was a piece of cake.

The administrators running the jury room were another story. Entering the room like everyone else, I attempted to find a spot to “sit”. There were rows and rows of chairs but no integrated wheelchair seating so I parked in one of the aisles in the back of the room rather than in the aisle down the middle of the room.

Those of us who have been using wheelchairs for some time know the routine. No matter where you choose to place yourself you will be told that you are in the way and asked to move. It took about ten minutes but an administrator was soon by my side telling me I was blocking traffic and suggested that I “move over there” pointing to a table against the opposite wall.

There were people using that table to fill out forms so I mentioned that I would be in the way there too. Why is it that some people do not like to be “upped” by a person using a wheelchair? She certainly did not like it and denied that there was anyone using the table even though three persons were in plain sight at the table at that very moment!

As I went towards the table she went over and grabbed the table, then dragged it off into another area. Plainly agitated she came back over to me and asked in a patronizing tone “Is that enough room?”

My wheelchair is about 26 inches wide, the table was about 5 feet long. Agitated myself, I retorted that if the room had been designed to accommodate a wheelchair and had integrated seating, she would not be having this problem now, would she?

Did I still want to do jury duty?

If I actually got to a courtroom, would I face the same kind of problems I had on day one in the jury administration room? Likely worse. Disability organizations are actively investigating problems with access to the courts. There are problems with access to courtrooms, jury and witness boxes, court offices, and restrooms including path of travel issues to the courthouses.

It was a long, long day. The prospective jurors were divided up into groups. We were asked if we were self-employed. We were asked if we were unemployed, homemakers, retired, students or teachers. We were asked if we were employed with unlimited days paid by the employer or if our employers would pay up to five or a maximum of ten days for jury service.

Then we were called by groups 12 – 17. I was placed in Group 17. Everyone in this group was so excited because they realized they would be the least likely to get called by the administrators. I was disappointed. Although I don’t relish the thought of the obstacles that most likely would lie before me should I get called to a courtroom, I did want to take a part in the judicial process.

And then, even though I had told the administrators I was self employed (a good reason to put someone at the bottom of the list), I could not help but wonder if I had been put in Group 17 because the wheelchair would cause most any court I got sent to administrative issues they would rather not have to deal with?

The state of California¹s Judicial Council has stated that “Making our state courts accessible to all court participants with disabilities, including litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, and observers, is a priority of the Judicial Council.”

Laws are there to back up such intent. For instance, California Rules of Court, Rule 989.3, developed by members of the Judicial Council Access and Fairness Advisory Committee, explains the accommodation rule. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all state and local governmental entities, including the courts, to accommodate the needs of disabled persons who have an interest in court activities, programs, and services.

The ADA also requires the government to modify programs to integrate disabled persons, eliminate discriminatory practices or procedures, and provide alternatives to communications limitations and differences.

Rule 989.3 defines accommodations as “making reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures; furnishing, at no charge, to the qualified individual with disabilities, auxiliary aids and services, which are not limited to equipment, devices, materials in alternative formats and qualified interpreters or readers.”

Accommodations must address diverse disabilities, which can vary in nature and degree from person to person. Accordingly, the type of accommodation granted can vary from person to person. Some examples of the type of accommodations that may be provided include, but are not limited to, the following:

* Schedule changes to accommodate accessible public transportation, medication schedules, or other time-sensitive needs;

* Additional time for a litigant with a disability to respond to court deadlines;

* Someone to read or assist with filling out forms for persons with visual, manual dexterity, cognitive, or other disabling conditions;

* Telephonic hearings for people who have environmental sensitivities, mobility, or other limitations; and

* Assistive-listening systems, sign-language interpreters, real-time captioning, written material on computer-readable disk, telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY), reader services, etc.

These regulations are necessary to afford a disabled individual an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity.

Well most of the able bodied jurors in that room would not exactly use the word ³enjoy² to describe jury duty, and by the end of the day I was feeling more in concert with them.

My two weeks are now up and group 17 – as expected – never was called to report for service. Maybe next time.

Marta Russell can be reached at ap888@lafn.org www.disweb.org

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