The first of October was cold and damp with a greasy gray rain staining the outside of the windows. The jury came dressed in jeans and heavy sweaters, but kept their jackets on in the chilly jury room. The morning ritual of Blackberry checking, newspaper reading and coffee drinking started as the sheriff peeked in and counted heads. Nobody paid any attention to him and he disappeared back into the courtroom. By 10:00 the jury was beginning to get restive and the bathroom door banged every few minutes. Finally, at 10:30, the sheriff knocked on the door and beckoned them into the courtroom.
As the jury took their seats a thin, young woman, with smooth light brown hair and a tan suit, slipped into the courtroom with an armload of X-rays and MRI films in a large folder. She settled into a seat near the back and looked around with interest. Mr. Stickler stood up and approached the jury. “I am now calling my third witness, Dr. Harbor, the Spinal Specialist who Ms. Groves was referred to by Dr. Small and I’m hoping this will go…er… a bit faster than before.” “A bit faster” was flung at the jury like a spitball and Juror Number Two glanced at the others and whispered, “Oh snap!”
With that introduction, the young woman stood up and came to the front of the courtroom with the folder of films. “Ah ha,” said Mr. Stickler with an oily smile, “Why don’t you put those right here on the table?” A fat hand patted the end of the table.
Dr. Harbor piled the films on the table and slid into the witness chair. The jury leaned forward and Juror Number Seven rested his chin on his fist. After the sheriff had sworn her in, Mr. Stickler turned to the Doctor.
“Good morning, Doctor, please state your name, your medical background and how you know my client, Ms. Groves.”
Dr Harbor turned to the jury and cleared her throat, “My name is Dr. Celia Harbor and I am a Spinal Surgeon.”
The jury grimaced at the title and Juror Number Eight murmured, “I hate the words spine and surgeon together!”
Dr. Harbor smiled at them. “Not to worry,” she said, “Surgery is the very last solution.” The jury relaxed again and she continued, “I graduated from Penn State and Johns Hopkins University Medical School.” Here she preened a bit, smoothed her skirt down over her knees and touched her smooth brown hair. “Ms. Groves was sent to me by Dr. Small. He also sent her X-rays and MRI films.”
“Harbor Seal,” whispered Juror Number Five, and the jury looked at their laps to hide their smiles. “A light brown Harbor Seal.”
“If I can have some help,” the doctor glanced at Mr. Stickler, “I’ll bring the light box over and review the X-rays and MRIs with the jury.”
“Of course, of course!” The prosecutor sprung to his feet and came over to help her roll the light box over in front of the jury.
The judge suddenly sat up and leaned forward, “Are these all sworn into evidence and tagged?” he asked.
“They’re tagged, your honor,” Mr. Stickler replied as the doctor picked up the folder of films and sorted through them.
The sheriff came forward and swore into evidence the pile of films as Dr. Harbor raised her right hand and solemnly whispered, “I do.”
“Humph,” said the judge and sat back, again.
The jury sat forward expectantly and Juror Number Three mumbled, “uh oh,” under her breath.
Doctor Harbor selected the X-rays. “These are the X-rays,” she murmured as she snapped on the light box and slipped four negatives under clips on the top of the glass. Images of white bones blossomed on the film and Dr. Harbor tilted her head to one side as she reviewed them, sleek brown hair falling over the side of her face.
“Harbor seal,” repeated Juror Number Five to no one in particular.
“In an X-ray you can’t see the disks or nerves, only the vertebrae,” the doctor mused, “as you can see, there are no broken bones in Ms. Grove’s neck.” At the words “broken bones” the jury cringed and crossed their legs. Dr. Harbor slid the X-rays out of the clips and placed them on a corner of the table.
“Shit, I hate the words broken and bones together,” said Juror Number Eight.
“Now, the MRIs,” continued Dr. Harbor as she slipped the MRIs out of the folder and snapped them into place on the light box, “The MRIs will show the vertebrae, the disks and the nerves.” She stood back and gazed at the films for a minute. The jury leaned forward and looked carefully at the MRIs. The first one showed a side view of the spinal column, the spinal cord, the vertebrae and the disks as they sectioned the vertebrae every few inches along the spinal column. Little nerves spiraled out at each disk and a strange little row of numbers and letters were listed at one side with thin lines leading to some of the disks. The second negative showed round, lunchmeat-like objects lined up with the numbers and letters floating on the side of the film.
“These are the vertebrae and disks,” Dr. Harbor went on, ” You can see how these disks are neatly lined up along the spine. But here,” she pointed with a pencil at a disk towards the top of the spine, “here is a bulging disk at the C5-C6.” The jury leaned forward even further and squinted at the film.
“Oh Jesus,” groaned Juror Number Eight, “I just hate this! Bulging disk…ugh!”
“Hmmmm?” murmured Juror Number Two.
“Look, look,” repeated Dr. Harbor, tapping the MRI with the pencil.”
Juror Number Eight made a face, and looked out the window for a minute. “Oh ewwww!”
Dr. Harbor turned to the second film and pointed to the lunchmeat-type objects and continued, “these are the cross section slices of the disks that are called out on the first negative. These show how each disk appears in each section: very round.” “But,” she tapped a rather lopsided image and went on, “see how this one bulges? That is the C5-C6.” The word “bulges” flew at the jury and they squinted at the image and glanced at each other.
“Oh, ewwww,” repeated Juror Number Eight.
Juror Number One shrugged and twisted his wedding ring.
Dr. Harbor took the jury through more of the fine points of MRI imagining, finishing as the jury started to get restless.
Mr. Stickler stood up. “Thank you, my dear,” he murmured and Ms. Bird stood up to do the cross-examination.
“Dr. Harbor,” she started, “can you point out the bulging disk in the MRI, again?”
Dr. Harbor took a marker and circled it around the slightly lopsided one. “Right here,” she replied.
Ms. Bird walked over to the light box and leaned in to look closely at the MRI. “Sorry, can’t see it, they’re all round,” she said.”
Dr. Harbor raised her eyebrows and her sleek brown hair bounced in agitation. “Here… here,” she snapped.
“Sorry,” Ms. Bird repeated, and the jury leaned forward to see if there would be some type of confrontation. “No further questions,” Ms. Bird said and returned to her seat.
Dr. Harbor went huffily back to the witness stand and the judge directed the jury to the jury room to compose their questions. “And please….” he implored and then just shook his head.
The room was still cold and the jury pulled their jackets around their shoulders and bent over their paper.
“OK,” said Juror Number One, “let’s mix this up. Juror Number Two write four questions, Juror Number Three gets six questions, Juror Number Four gets four questions and so on.”
Everyone picked up their pencils and leaned over the pads of paper.
“How did the MRI machine slice the vertebrae?” wrote Juror Number Four.
“Is there a possibility of a “smudge” on the film?” wrote Juror Number One.
Juror Number Six frowned in concentration and then wrote, “Is a bulging disk the same as a herniated disk?”
Juror Number Eight sat and stared at her paper, her mouth in a small moue of disgust.
By the end of forty minutes, Juror Number One knocked on the door and passed the questions to the sheriff. After a few more minutes, the jury filed back out and took their seats.
The judge shook his head and turned to the jury, “I don’t think Dr. Harbor has to fill you in on the technicalities of MRI technology but the rest of the questions seem to be a bit more… ummm… intelligent. After this witness is excused, the court may take their lunch break.” He turned to Dr. Harbor and started reading the questions.
By the end of the week, the weather had turned warm again, and the jury came into the courtroom in light shirts and slacks with jackets and sweaters draped over their shoulders. They gathered in the jury room with their coffee, newspapers and Blackberries and hardly glanced at the sheriff when he looked in to count heads. When they were called into the courtroom, they slouched into their seats and stared at the judge as he and the attorneys took their seats.
The judge opened an envelope and pulled out a typewritten note, read it to himself and then leaned forward sternly. “This morning I received a letter from the errr….fiancé of Ms. Groves and I will read it to the jury…hmmm. “Dear Judge,” he read, ‘I will not be available to take part in my girl fiend’s trial as I will be out of town. Sincerely, Joe Mellon.’ So, Mr. Stickler may go ahead now and introduce his first witness of the day.” He sat back and scowled at the back wall.
The jury turned to look at Ms. Groves who was adjusting her neck brace and looking back at them sadly.
“This morning, Ms. Groves will be taking the witness stand,” Mr. Stickler said as he turned and smiled sympathetically at his client. She stood up and carefully moved from behind the table, where he met her and helped her to the witness stand, one hand under her elbow and the other arm around her shoulder. She was wearing a light skirt and top with a yellow sweater and her hair was rolled into a neat twist on top of her head. Her bright red lipstick glistened and she licked her lips nervously as the sheriff swore her in. Mr. Stickler patted her arm. “Ms. Groves,” he began, “please tell the jury about yourself and how this…uh…unfortunate…err…event happened”.
The jury, suddenly alert, sat forward and focused their eyes on the defendant. Ms. Groves leaned towards the microphone and wet her lips again. “I live in City Point New Jersey and work in Manhattan”, she whispered.
“Speak up, speak up,” the judge directed, not unkindly. “Did you all get this?”He glanced at the jury.
The jury nodded and looked back at the plaintiff.
Ms Groves leaned forward and raised her voice, “I’m engaged…err… will soon become engaged…at the word “soon” she looked imploringly at the jury….and I was out shopping for a new dress to wear when we have our…err…um…engagement party.” Here she sniffed and took a very clean white hankie from the sleeve of her sweater and dabbed at her eyes and nose.
“Here, here,” said Mr. Stickler in a consoling voice. Ms. Bird glared at him over the table and started making notes on the pad in front of her.
“I was in the Ladies Room,” here she sniffed again and continued, “and as I reached for the door, it suddenly was pushed violently from the outside.”
The word “violently” hung in the air and Ms. Bird snapped, “Side bar,” and dropped her pad on the floor as she jumped up to get around the table.
Mr. Stickler sighed, “shit,” and joined her in front of the judge. The judge pushed his glasses back up his nose and leaned forward as the two attorneys whispered furiously. Ms. Groves sat bolt upright in her chair and looked straight ahead. The jury looked at her and then at the two attorneys as they finally huffed back to their places.
“Ms Groves, ” Mr. Stickler murmured, “try to tell the story without so much…errr…uh…emotion.”
The plaintiff dabbed her eyes again, and nodded her head stiffly in the neck brace. “As I was leaving,” she continued, “the door opened and knocked me down the stairs onto my head.” Here she blew her nose loudly and touched the neck brace. “I have to wear this neck brace and I don’t know if my boyfriend even wants to get engaged, anymore. He’s gone to Canada to hunt moose!”
The judge muttered, “moose,” and continued to scowl at the back wall.
“Well, shit, don’t stay with him, then,” huffed Juror Number Two.
Ms. Groves snuffled, and turning stiffly, looked forlornly at the jury. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she moaned. “It wasn’t my fault…”
Ms Bird started to get to her feet, her hand raised.
“Thank you, Ms. Groves,” Mr. Stickler said quickly, cutting her off. “I have no further questions at this point. Ms. Bird picked up her pad and moved from behind the table as Mr. Stickler slipped into his seat.
“Ms Groves,” Ms. Bird started, with a small smile, “When you fell down the stairs, did the defendant, Ms. Riley, and Mr. Bond, the security guard, come to help you?”
“Where were you when they came to your aid?”
“I was on the floor!”
“Well,” Ms. Bird continued, “Mr. Bond has testified that you said you had hurt your head and ruined your stockings, and that you were more worried about your ruined stockings than any injury and”… here she paused dramatically and the jury leaned forward and look intently at Ms. Bird… ‘You never even mentioned your neck!” She turned and looked at the jury with a triumphant smile.
Ms. Groves leaned forward stiffly and started sobbing into her hankie. The jury glanced at each other uncomfortably and Mr. Stickler jumped to his feet. “Ms. Bird,” he thundered, “that’s enough!”
The judge leaned over and said to the plaintiff, “if you need, Ms. Groves, please take a moment to pull yourself together.” He turned and motioned to Mr. Stickler to sit back down. After a moment, the plaintiff sat back and blew her nose on her now damp hankie. “Please answer the question,” the judge told her gently and sat back in his chair.
“I didn’t realize until the next day that I had really, really, really hurt my neck,” Ms. Groves continued, “That is when I called my doctor and made an appointment. My neck hurt and my arm hurt and it was all numb with pins and needles and now I don’t even know if my boyfriend loves me anymore.” She leaned forward again and blew her nose loudly before sobbing quietly into her hankie.
“Oh my God,” said Juror Number Seven.
“Ms. Groves,” Ms Bird finished, “I just don’t know what to think about this. First you say you were not hurt and that you had just bumped your head, and then you say you hurt your neck badly and that you then called your doctor. It seems to me that an accident that caused a bulging disk would have caused you pain when it happened.”
The word “pain” hung in the air and Juror Number Eight said, “Damn it, I just hate the word pain.”
“Uh ummm,” Ms. Groves mumbled and Ms. Bird waved her hand and said, “no further questions.”
Mr. Stickler bounced to his feet and asked to redirect a “few questions”. “Ms. Groves,” he asked, “Would you have taken the trouble to go to the doctor and have an X-ray and a MRI and whatever if you had not hurt your neck? ‘Would you wear that uncomfortable neck brace if you had not hurt your neck?” He smiled hopefully at the jury and turned back to Ms. Groves.
“No, sir,” she said sadly, and Mr. Stickler sat back down. The jury leaned back in their chairs and the judge cleared his throat.
“The jury will now be excused to write their questions,” he turned and looked sternly at them over his glasses. The jury stood up and slouched out of the courtroom.
In the jury room, Juror Number One put his head in his hands. “Oh good God,” he groaned, ” how can I stand the boredom. “
Juror Number Seven glared at him. “Well, Ms. Groves probably isn’t bored.” She turned her back and looked out the window.
Juror Number Eight brushed her blond hair away from her face and stared at the blank page in front of her, “I just hate words like spine and pain and bulging disks. I think I’m too old for this.”
Juror Number Five took his pencil and started his questions: “Did your neck hurt before or after you went to bed,” he wrote, and then stuck the tip of the pencil into his mouth.
Juror Number Three said, “shit” softly, put her head on the table and closed her eyes.
“OK,” said Juror Number One, ” let’s split this up. Jurors Number Two, Four Six and Eight, three questions, the rest of us, two questions each.”
Juror Number Three sat up again and they all bent over their paper and started scribbling.
When they filed back into the courtroom and took their seats, the judge told them he would ask the “pertinent questions he had chosen” of “this witness” and then they would break for lunch until 2:00 PM. At that time, the defendant, Ms. Riley, would take the stand in her defense. He turned and looked quizzically at the jury as they slumped in their seats and then turned to the questions.
During the morning, the weather had started to change, and the jury huddled in their sweaters and light jackets as they hustled across the street to the Ramble Inn Diner. “I don’t know if I can stand this,” said Juror Number One,” as he bit into a grilled cheese sandwich.
“Hey, look everyone,” whispered Juror Number Five as he glanced furtively around, “we’re getting paid for this, so let’s just settle down for the long haul.” He opened his tuna sandwich and picked out the few limp pieces of lettuce.
“Okei dokie,” Juror Number Eight chimed in, as she sat down, “let’s just settle on down for the loooooong haul. This afternoon we can see what Ms. Riley has to say for herself. I, for one, am getting really squeamish with all this medical talk about spines and bulging disks and nerves, ugh!” She bit daintily into her ham sandwich.
By 2:00 the jury was again seated and the courtroom settled down. Ms. Bird stood up and faced the jury. “I will now ask my client, Ms. Riley, the defendant, to take her seat in the witness seat to be sworn in. She will share with you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how she was innocently taking a trip to the… err… Ladies Room in Mead’s Department Store, and was involved in this rather unfortunate accident which was really no fault of her own.” She turned to Ms. Riley, who stood up stiffly and found her way to the witness stand.
“…To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” droned the sheriff….”I do,” whispered the defendant holding her right hand limply in the air.
Ms. Bird turned to Ms. Riley, “Ms. Riley,” she started, smiling down at her, “please tell the kind ladies and gentlemen of the jury what happened to you on October 17 of last year on your shopping trip to Mead’s Department store.” Ms. Bird smiled at the defendant again and raised her eyebrows, inviting Ms. Riley to tell her story.
The defendant curled her hanky around the fingers of her left hand and cleared her throat. “My name is Amanda Riley and I live in Jersey City. I was shopping at Mead’s Department store for a new outfit,” she started. She unwound the hanky and dabbed at the tip of her nose. “I needed it because I was going for an interview.” At this she sniffed again and the word “interview” dropped like a turd in the jury’s lap. “Will this recession ever end,” she moaned and the jury nodded and muttered, “Amen!” She continued, “I pushed the door open and suddenly I heard someone cry out and the sound of someone bumping down inside. I opened the door and saw Ms. Groves sitting on the floor by the washbasins. I told her to stay still while I ran for help and rushed out to see if I could find someone.”
She rewound the hanky as Mr. Stickler jumped to his feet, pointing a finger in the air, shouted, “rushed!”
“Sidebar,” Ms. Bird shouted back, and both attorneys marched in front of the judge. The jury sat back and rolled their eyes.
After another rash of enraged whispers, the judge excused the attorneys and Ms. Bird stepped in front of her client, again. “Rushed?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Ms. Riley, “of course I rushed, there was a lady sitting on the floor of the Ladies Room. I had to find someone to help her!”
Mr. Stickler settled back in his chair and looked out the window. The jury sighed and rolled their eyes again.
“Tell us what happened when you found the Security Guard,” Ms. Bird asked.
“He came back with me and talked to the lady. He asked her if she was hurt.”
“And, what did the lady… err…Ms. Groves tell him,” asked Ms. Bird. Ms. Riley sniffed and touched her nose again. “Ms. Groves assured him that, other than a ruined pair of stockings and a small bump on the back of her head, she was fine and would just like a new pair of stockings, please, size A, Tan, reinforced toe.”
“Did she get the stocking?” asked Ms. Bird.
Ms. Riley sniffed, “I went and got them for her,” she said, glancing at the jury. The jury looked back at her and shifted in their seats.
“No more questions,” Ms. Bird said and returned to her seat.
“Your witness,” the judge said, turning to Mr. Stickler.
Shooting his jacket sleeves again, Mr. Stickler stood up and marched up to the defendant, who sat back in her chair and wound the hanky around her hand.
“Oh God, here we go, again,” murmured Juror Number One.
At the end of the day, the jury picked up their belongings in the jury room and hurried out of the building.
“I don’t know how much more of this I can stand,” Juror Number Two said to Juror Number Five. “The same thing is said over and over, just in a different way. Witnesses, plaintiffs, doctors and we don’t even get to hear from Ms. Groves’ boy friend about their sex life! Jesus, hunting moose in Canada. Seriously?”
“Just drift and dream,” Juror Number Five told her and smiled, “and then cash your jury check when it arrives. I, for one, am very comfortable just drift’n and dream’n, knowing the extra money’s coming in. My unemployment check is pretty slim. Hey, it looks like old Joe mellon-balled it off to Canada, huh.” Then he zipped up his jacket and shambled towards the bus stop.
Juror Number Two tugged her jacket more closely around her shoulders. “Crap,” she said and scuttled across the street where her husband was waiting in their Honda Civic.
It was the end of October.