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Case closed

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As a serious courtroom addict, over the years I've studied the testimonies of deranged commuter killers, eccentric mercy-killing physicians, smug talk-show hosts and shameful Kennedy offspring. I've endured even the dullest of testimony so I could be the best-informed imaginary juror and cast my pretend vote as prudently as possible.

All of this, I had hoped, would prepare me--not for an aspiring legal career (I don't like to read much)--but for the day I'd be asked to perform my civic duty and sit on a real jury. When I did finally receive a summons to do just that, I felt like a teenage Latina celebrating her quinceañera. This was my big debut--my coming of age as a citizen of Durham County.

I envisioned a long, drawn-out trial full of local scandal and intrigue. A university professor indicted on charges of sexual misconduct with a student, or a hospital surgeon charged with first-degree murder after catching her husband in bed with a silicone-enhanced stripper from Thee Dollhouse. Maybe it would be a well-publicized case and jurors would have to be sequestered at some plush locale like the Washington Duke Inn.

In reality, the room I reported to at the county courthouse looked almost like an airport gate, filled with blue upholstered seats sectioned off in neat blocks. At the front, a petite, perky, Carol Kane type behind a glass booth beckoned me toward her. She politely asked for my summons and identification. After I signed in, she handed me The Jury Badge, which I clipped to my blouse as proudly as if it were a civilian medal of honor.

Soon, scores of disgruntled Durhamites started filing in like petulant Goldie Hawns reporting for basic training in Private Benjamin. I heard a couple of them hem and haw about how they were going to miss an important meeting or their kid's school play. Who were all these ingrates and why were they sharing the room with me?

Carol Kane announced that there were two trials underway--one civil, one criminal--for which jury selection had already begun. We were needed only as backups in case too many of those jurors were ineligible to serve. Chances were, "none of you will actually have to serve," she reassured us. "Hopefully, we'll get you out of here by lunchtime!" A resounding, "Woo hoo!" filled the room that echoed like the cheers of a crowd at a sporting event.

After four hours of sitting among this civically challenged home team, I was finally released without serving. My dreams of drama and scandal and free lunches and hotel rooms and bragging rights and justice and the constitution were dashed. Just like that.

Stripped of my badge and thoroughly defeated, I went back home, threw off my fancy clothes, plopped on the sofa and flipped on Court TV. What's this? Cross-dressing millionaire doctor on trial for wife's murder?

"Hot damn!" I exclaimed. "Court is most definitely back in session."

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