L. Neil Smith's
Number 178, June 17, 2002


'If You Don't Show Up, You Get A Letter, Believe Me'
by Vin Suprynowicz

Special to TLE

It may not pay any better than schoolteaching, but there are a few advantages to having your picture in the paper every week, one of which is that the afternoon before I was supposed to report for jury duty I got a call from one of our local district court judges, telling me I probably wouldn't have to worry about it.

Except for one or two guys left "on duty" so it wouldn't be too obvious, virtually every district court judge in Clark County was on his or her way to a really important Bar Association conference around the middle of last week, my black-robed source told me -- a conference of such urgency that they'd had no choice but to schedule it in, you know ... Hawaii.

You're supposed to call a phone number the evening before the date on your summons (455-3425), which I duly did, at which point an anonymous female voice confirmed for me that sure enough, about 90 percent of the "badge numbers" assigned for June 11 wouldn't be needed; wait a few weeks and we'll send you another summons.

How pleasing those words must have been to someone who'd just massively rearranged his or her life to get the day off, plus child care.

Needless to say, I headed down to the courthouse at 8 a.m. the next morning, anyway.

Hey, this thing is a summons, right? It says on it "Failure to obey this summons may be punishable under Nevada law ... failure to respond could result in a contempt of court charge with a fine up to $500 and/or a bench warrant." When the arresting officers show up at your door, do you want to be standing there in your underwear, whining like Bobcat Goldthwait, telling them, "Um, I heard a voice on the phone telling me I didn't have to show up."

"A voice on the phone? Did this voice have a name?"

"Um, no. It was, like ... a recording?"

"Did this anonymous voice, by any chance, tell you its position or title, or from whom it got any due delegation of authority to tell you you didn't have to show up in answer to this court summons?"

"Um, no. But it was a really nice voice."

"We see. And do you also receive messages from space aliens on the fillings in your teeth, telling you when you don't have to obey a court summons?"

Not me, brother. I was down there bright and early at 8 a.m.

To wait for half an hour for anyone to show up.

First, of course, you enter the courthouse through a door with a sign that reads "All weapons subject to confiscation beyond this point." Pass through these ominous doors and walk 40 feet across the foyer and you come to another sign, right in front of the metal detectors, which says "No persons with firearms allowed beyond this point. All weapons must be checked here, including concealed weapons for which you have a permit."

I asked the bailiff in the tan uniform which makes him look almost like a Metro cop whether they had lockers there so we could check our weapons. He said they did. I then asked him how we were supposed to get our weapons to this point to check them, if they were subject to confiscation 40 feet back. Instead of answering me, he returned a little pocket knife -- I mean this thing couldn't have been two inches long -- to a smiling lady who'd forgotten and left it behind. He pulled it out of an unlocked wooden drawer with a whole bunch of little pigeonholes in it, like something out of a 19th century bank or apothecary.

One of the guys here at the paper reports checking an expensive Swiss Army knife into this foolproof secure storage system, and being handed back at the end of the day a knife of about half the size and value of the one he'd turned in.

I was also going to ask my gatekeeper what all the bailiffs and cops on the other side of the metal detectors were doing with guns on their hips, if no "persons" with firearms were allowed beyond this point. Weren't they persons? But no one seemed interested in talking with me, what with the huge rush of lawyers and clerks crowding through the cattle chutes, laughing and setting off the alarms and going back to try again.

I passed through quietly (I hadn't brought my Colt, realizing our right to keep and bear arms, which we are guaranteed "shall not be infringed," is now subject to "reasonable restrictions," such that law-abiding citizens working in or tending to business in most of our government buildings -- the one place you'd think they'd make the biggest point of enforcing our rights -- are now disarmed by law and fair game to be raped or robbed between the courthouse and their cars, especially at night.)

In the jury waiting room I found the jurors. They were, of course, waiting.

Across the hall from the jury waiting room are the double doors to the courthouse's loading dock , marked "Emergency Exit Only." They are wired to no alarm; no bailiff guards them. As we waited, a couple of janitors came through, pushing those big gray rubber tubs on wheels, in this case loaded with old case files being shipped out of the building for disposal or storage. They propped open the loading dock doors and sauntered out to load their cargo onto a waiting truck. I walked out through the loading dock doors into the fresh air of the "unsecure" outside world, watching the traffic go by on Third Street. And back in again. And out. And in. The six armed guards at the front door, 100 feet away, paid no heed. I sure am glad they're there to protect us from the law clerks' fiendish pocket knives, though.

A half hour later one Joan Earl showed up and went through the numbers that were dismissed, patiently trying to explain it all again to some very sincere folks whose native languages seemed variously to be Spanish and, as close as I could tell, Cantonese.

I asked Ms. Earl if it was true most of the judges were away in Hawaii, explaining why she was having to excuse most of the prospective jurors who had been summoned.

She agreed that was true.

"Couldn't you just have waited and summoned all these people next week, when you knew the judges would be here?" I asked.

She gave me the look. You know the look. The one that says, "The computer did it, sir. Who are we to question the computer?"

I asked three times if I could have a written confirmation that I had appeared in answer to my summons. She finally pulled out some generic, undated form letter signed by Jury Commissioner Judy Rowland, explaining that if we had any questions we should call 455-4472. On this she wrote "6-11-02", her initials ("J.E."), and yet a third number, "455-3433."

"But this isn't a written confirmation that I showed up," I protested. "Don't you have a form that says, 'This is to certify that prospective juror (fill in name) showed up in accordance with his jury summons on (fill in date) ...' and so forth?"

"That's what I just gave you," Ms. Earl replied. "If they have any questions have them call that number."

If who had any questions -- the arresting officers?

"Come on," I said. "They don't really issue bench warrants and contempt-of-court citations if people don't show up in response to these so-called 'summons,' do they?"

"Oh yes we do," she replied. "We issue a lot of them. If you don't show up, you get a letter, believe me."

Letters? Contempt-of-court citations now come in the form of "letters"?

In this highly mobile and itinerant community, where fully a quarter of those forms must surely come back "undeliverable, no forwarding address," they've got officers chasing around after every Tom, Dick, and Jose who doesn't show up for jury duty? Yet there's no dated form they can give me to prove to anyone I actually did show up?

Coming soon: The second summons.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of the books "Send in the Waco Killers" and "The Ballad of Carl Drega." For information on his books or his monthly newsletter, dial 775-348-8591; write 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503; or visit Web site www.privacyalertonline.com.


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