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Meeting your Ripon neighbors at jury duty, plus an unexpected pleasure over lunch

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POSTED May 3, 2013 2:21 a.m.

Meeting a couple of Ripon folks, and one from Linden and another from Tracy was an unexpected pleasure in my brief two days of jury duty this week – especially when four of us just happened to go out to lunch together on Thursday.

There were about 60 of us who sat together in the basement of the Stockton courthouse Wednesday afternoon for some three hours before we got into Judge Johnson’s courtroom for a brief 15 minutes and then sent home only to return at 10 Thursday morning on a robbery case out of Lodi.

It was at our lunch break Thursday,  as we were all waiting for the elevator on the third floor,  that a group of about 12 jurors stood silently as strangers waiting for the door open to head downstairs for lunch when I broke the silence, asking if anyone knew a good place to eat.

One woman spoke up, mentioned a Greek restaurant just down the street and said we should follow her – follow we did for about a city block.  The reaction by shocked staff at the eatery as we entered was, “Do you all have a reservation?”  We didn’t, but they seated us anyway.

The last four in the crowd, we gravitated near the others at separate tables set for four against the wall.  My table included a mom from Ripon with a third grade student at Ripon Elementary and a freshman at Central Catholic High School.  The woman sitting across the table was a school bus driver and the man next to her was from Tracy and a technical specialist at the Livermore lab.

The Ripon mom initiated the conversation as the entire group walked together across the intersection and down the street to the restaurant. 

“I know you!” she quipped. “I think you took our wedding pictures 17 years ago at St. Anne’s Church in Lodi.  Our reception was at Wine and Roses,” she said as she looked back over her shoulder.

That was an easy one to remember among the hundreds of weddings I had photographed, since it was the only set of nuptials I had taken at that particular church.  She added that their anniversary was on Friday – today.

Ironically we all seemed to have something in common and totally enjoyed each other’s company.  The Central Catholic mom and I chatted some about her daughter’s choice of high schools, since all four of our teens were students there in the past.  The school bus driver told of her upcoming marriage and plans to live in Arnold after selling her acreage and home in Linden.  All four of us got into a conversation mode and, without a doubt, enjoyed the social connection between jurors – friends at the onset.

Also from Ripon was a truck driver who grew up less than a block from our home in the south central part of the community in the 700 block of Baker Drive. Strangely enough we had purchased his aunt and uncle’s home – Ed and Helen Vermeulen.  We talked at length in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Leaving Ripon for Stockton Thursday morning, I faced heavy backup traffic in the northbound lanes of Highway 99 as I neared Jack Tone Road after entering the freeway off of Wilma Avenue.  There had been an injury accident at Lathrop Road and the freeway and I could see getting stuck in traffic and being late for court.

The most evident detour was taking the Jack Tone Road off ramp and driving toward the Frontage Road that parallels the freeway.  It worked and I successfully made my way to I-5 and entered the parking garage with 10 minutes to spare – or maybe I should say to run!

Back from lunch in the afternoon court session, I was one of the 18 to be called into the jury box and remained there through the judge’s questions and those of the two attorneys for a couple hours.  Answering the prepared list of questions, I acknowledged that, yes, I did know police officers in every department in the South County – as well as Sheriff Steve Moore and District Attorney James Willet.

And, yes, there was a family member who is a police officer – son Tim – a homicide detective in San Diego County.  The trial is expected to take most of next week before it is resolved.  Several of us were excused at that point – about 3:30 – and we were free to go back to work or go home.  Shucks, they decided they didn’t want me as a juror.

Never having served on a jury, I was looking forward to the challenge – but it wasn’t meant to be this year – maybe next.  But, without a doubt, the positive result of my jury duty was chatting over lunch with three other potential jurors who were clearly outstanding individuals – an unexpected moment in time.

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