By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I’m the very model of the modern model citizen, although I’m not as beautiful a model as Heidi Klum, which explains why I have never been featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Still, I am proud and slightly flummoxed to say that I do not (as yet) have a criminal record. On the advice of my attorney, who is in jail, I can’t say anything else except that I am disappointed I wasn’t chosen to serve on a court case when I was called recently for jury duty.
After I received my summons in the mail, I eagerly called the telephone standby number every day for a week, only to be told by a recorded message that my services weren’t needed. At the end of the week, I was excused and was told I wouldn’t be called for another six years.
I was so crestfallen at this miscarriage of justice that I went to see Michael D. O’Donohoe, commissioner of jurors for Suffolk County, N.Y., where I live, to find out why I wasn’t picked.
"Don’t take it personally," O’Donohoe told me as we sat in his office just off the jury room. "We’re looking for anyone who is reasonable."
"I guess that’s what eliminated me," I reasoned.
Actually, O’Donohoe said, failure to be called for a case isn’t unusual. "It happens," he explained. "At least you wanted to serve. There are some people who will do anything to get out of jury duty."
Like the guy who filled out his juror information form by writing, "I hate everybody." Then he added epithets about various religious and ethnic groups.
"He thought we wouldn’t pick him because he was prejudiced," O’Donohoe said. "He also blackened out his name and figured we would never find him. But he didn’t realize there was a bar code on the form, so we tracked him down and put him back in the system. When he came in, he said, ‘How did you ever find me?’ I told him I had my ways. Then I reported him to the bias crimes unit. He wasn’t anything but a knucklehead. In this job, you have to deal with idiots like that."
Even O’Donohoe’s wife couldn’t get out of jury duty.
"Not that she wanted to," he said. "During questioning for a civil case, an attorney asked if she was any relation to the commissioner of jurors. She said, ‘Yes, I’m married to him.’ The attorney said, ‘You’re his wife and you can’t get out of jury duty?’ My wife said, ‘I’m sleeping with him and I still can’t.’ Then the woman behind her said, ‘I guess my excuse isn’t going to work.’ My wife got picked. So did the other woman."
And if you think being a celebrity can get you off the hook, O’Donohoe said, think again. That’s what actor Alec Baldwin found out after failing to report.
"He didn’t show up for his first court date and he didn’t show up for his next one, either," O’Donohoe recalled. "I said to his attorney, ‘I am going to give him another date and I want him to show up this time,’ but he didn’t show up again. I called his attorney back and said, ‘Let’s not play games.’ Finally, Alec walked in and said, ‘I’m very sorry, Mr. Commissioner.’ He wasn’t selected to be on a jury, but he went through the process."
So did other Hamptons celebrities such as Christie Brinkley, Billy Joel and Alan Alda, whom O’Donohoe called "a gentleman," adding, "He was a really nice guy."
There was, however, one person O’Donohoe did excuse from jury duty: his mother.
"One day a letter came across my desk," O’Donohoe remembered. "It said, ‘My car can make it but I don’t think I can.’ And it was signed ‘Helen O’Donohoe.’ I said to myself, ‘That’s my mother!’ So I called her and said, ‘Why didn’t you call me instead of writing a letter?’ She said, ‘I didn’t want to bother you.’ I get thousands of these letters, but I excused her anyway."
O’Donohoe, 60, a former legislator, has been on the job for 15 years and loves it. "The system really does work," he said, adding that I wouldn’t have to wait six years to be back in the jury pool. "You can volunteer after two years," he suggested.
When I asked what I had to do to get on a case, O’Donohoe smiled and said, "Just make sure you’re not the defendant."
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima