Without a doubt it was different. Amid the expanse of wooden walls, wooden benches, wooden tables and vinyl-covered seats that were so familiar to me, there was a whiff of strangeness. I entered the court through the back doors and sat down among the spectators until I was moved to the reserved press seats across the aisle: to prevent a possible spectacle with me in the middle, I was told.
I arrived early to ensure that I would have a seat in the main court and not in the overflow room where an audio portion of the trial is fed. I needn’t have worried. Gary, one of the court’s marshals that looked after our welfare and prevented us from doing things that might embarrass the court, told me that during this jury’s selection the court hasn’t attracted many spectators and consequently had vacant seats. Gary is a retired Chicago Police Lieutenant; one of Judge James Zagel’s many unsung minions.
Ted is the other marshal. Ted has the quintessential court voice and commands the court to “all rise” in a booming baritone when the judge resumes the bench, and the jury their seats in the jury box. I had spent two months going in and out of the courtroom to the sound of Ted’s voice.
Being summoned to line up in the interior hallway between the judge’s chamber and the courtroom, and ushered into the court to face the stares of the many faces trying to read what it was that we thought of this procedure. Are we buying what the prosecution is selling? Is there sympathy in our glances at the defendant, ex-governor Rod Blagojevich? They wouldn’t know until the verdict was signed and presented to the judge.
Ted’s voice was the same, the judge looked and sounded the same, the prosecution was the same, the defense has pared down but the governor looked his same dapper self; but it wasn’t the same. I was now just a spectator, and not a principle in the action of the court. I wasn’t a player on the silent stage of the jury box that had attorneys trying their best to sway us with their best stab at eloquence and logic.
It wasn’t the same; I wasn‘t disappointed though. I now could see what as a juror I wasn’t allowed to see or hear. I saw the jury selection process in its entirety. The questionnaire being flipped through, the questions asked by the judge, and the admonitions as to what they could not do. That was the same. But it wasn’t directed at me and it was a relief. I was just a watcher and not responsible for rendering a verdict that could decide a man’s fate for many years to come. I think I am grateful for the reversal in roles in this play. I can listen, read and watch whatever I wish.
I was told by the media some specifics about my trial that I didn’t know. For example, when the judge asked during the selection process if it were true that I had been born in a World War II concentration camp called Manzanar. I said, yes I was. What I was told happened then was that exchange caught the attention of the media, and they looked from whatever they were writing to focus on this person that had traveled from there to this court; what an ironic development.