Monday, November 20, 2006

Jury Duty with the Stars

My lack of blogging this month can be directly attributed to the fact that I was on jury duty from October 31 through November 15. The trial was dramatic at times – a civil suit involving a brother suing his sister for his share of their parents' estate which he believed she had duped him out of. My fellow jurors were an interesting and largely congenial lot, but throughout the trial I kept wondering what the process would have been like if a certain member of my jury selection pool hadn't been dismissed. I was nearly on a jury with Michael Ovitz.

Although familiar with his resume, I wouldn't have recognized Ovitz in our crowd of 30 candidates if his name hadn't been called.

He was dressed very casually, and the only giveaway was his slightly battered Lakers briefcase. One of my fellow jurors mentioned later that she thought he looked almost homeless. He sat right in front of me, looking peeved, but dutifully performing his civic duty. He conscientiously turned his cell phone off.

Before interviewing anyone, the judge and attorneys read off the names of all potential witnesses in the case.
We were supposed to speak up if we knew anyone. Several art gallery representatives were mentioned, and Ovitz piped up to say he knew virtually everyone at every gallery in LA and New York. When the judge questioned him further, he admitted his curator dealt directly with the galleries, but it was possible he might have met the potential unnamed representatives. He also mentioned that he was on the Board of Trustees of MOMA. The judge wasn't impressed, and Ovitz remained on the roster.

The attorneys and judge questioned the first 12 panelists, which didn't include Ovitz or myself.
They let a couple folks go. It was then time for a lunch break, and Ovitz approached the clerk and asked if he could speak with the judge. The clerk said no. "Please," he pleaded, "If I can just have a minute with the judge…" No dice. He would have to come back after lunch with the rest of us peons.

After lunch, we milled around in the hallway waiting to be called back into the courtroom.
Ovitz was called in by himself. Now I was sure he'd get off the hook, but, surprisingly, he was sitting there looking dejected when we went back in the courtroom. More potential jurors were interviewed, including myself. They didn't question us very intensely, and I couldn't really detect a pattern to why they let some people go and kept others. An actress named Susan Egan got off the hook because she told the judge she had a concert in New York coming up, and if the trial ran a bit long, she'd miss the show. But when I mentioned I had travel plans that same weekend to visit my father who was undergoing cancer treatment, the judge only asked me if it would really matter if I went there a couple days later. I googled Susan and discovered she was the original Belle in Broadway's Beauty and the Beast. I guess it's good she didnt end up on the jury. If she'd eaten in the courthouse cafeteria with the rest of us, all the cups and forks might have started dancing and caused a disturbance.

In the end, only 2 people remained in the room who were not interviewed – one woman and Ovitz.
I became Juror #12. Ovitz and the remaining few cast-offs were sent home, and the rest of us were sworn in and began serving on a trial that was supposed to last 7 or 8 days but ended up lasting 10. Among the jurors were several self-employed people and one minimum-wage worker whose job would not pay him while he was on the jury. Off the jury was one unemployed power broker whose $38 million cash and $100 million stock Disney severance package would have made it hard for him to plead financial hardship.

A few days later, I took some friends who were visiting from New York to their first Laker game, and I bought lower level seats so they could be assured some star sightings.
It was a fairly sparse night, but we did spy Dian Cannon, Tobey Maguire, Ashton Kutcher with Demi's kids, Andy Garcia, and Matthew Perry. And we also saw Michael Ovitz, arriving late and settling into his courtside seat, which was probably a lot more comfortable than the jury box.

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