The first time I had jury duty – and the only time that I was ever called back to actually speak before a judge prior to voir dire – was the summer after I had turned 18.
It was 2001, I was working as a utility clerk at a Stockton grocery store while going to school. It was made abundantly clear to me that my employer would not pay me in order to carry out my civic duty.
So, I got up before the judge, told him that I needed to be excused because of a financial hardship – that I was working to pay my way through school and I couldn’t afford to miss multiple days without pay – and I was excused.
But none of that happened before I spent three hours in the dungeon that served as the jury waiting room inside of the San Joaquin County Superior Court – the windowless box that seemed much smaller than it actually was when you cram dozens of people into a room comprised of concrete walls.
Not any more.
On Monday, jurors in San Joaquin County will now be treated to one of the nicest waiting areas in Stockton – with million dollar views of the western portion of the city, and on a clear day, the coastal range and Mount Diablo.
It only took 54 years for those who serve as the backbone of the criminal justice system in San Joaquin County to have a place that doesn’t make people cringe at the thought not long after I technically became ineligible for jury serve in the county that will enjoy the new digs.
How’s that for irony.
But in all seriousness, the walking tour of the new $308 million complex earlier this week was amazing, and people who have ever had to do business inside of the courthouse are going to be blown away at the changes that extend far beyond a dimple facelift and some new furniture.
While it won’t be operational when the courthouse opens on Monday, there will be a childcare service available for those who have business to conduct inside of the courthouse.
Having to awkwardly watch attorneys confer with their clients in the halls has been done away with thanks to dedicated attorney conference rooms that are attached to each courtroom, and there are now secure portals where attorneys can briefly confer with clients behind a glass pane without the person in custody ever having to step food inside of the court room.
But the biggest change will be having a clerk desk outside of the secure area, which will save time for people who need to take care of tickets and fines as well as those who have to proceed on to courtrooms or other sections of the courthouse.
I’ve already heard of people refer to the building as the “Taj Mahal” of San Joaquin County, and it easily becomes the most impressive building in the entire jurisdiction, partly because there’s nothing remotely close to it in terms of scope or design.
It may have taken 17 years to make happen, but it’ll forever change the experience that people have with the judicial complex.
And where else do you have a 12th story balcony that give picturesque views of the county seat?
It’s still a nope
High school football practice starts on Monday, and that means another season of young men working tirelessly towards achieving a goal, whether that’s just a winning season or, in the case of Manteca High School, a state championship that has eluded the local powerhouse in recent years.
It’s normally about this time of year that I begin to get excited – partially because I get to prowl the sidelines of some of the better football programs in the area as a part of my job, and partially because I know that college football season is also rapidly approaching, and then the NFL season that has always been such a big part of my life.
But after the report on the brains of 111 former NFL players that was released this week – 110 of which showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – I suddenly feel less enthused about rooting for young men, young adults and grown men to smash into each other at full speed.
And that breaks my heart.
I’ve naturally gravitated away from NFL football as a fan over the last few years, and I’m starting to think it’s because I’m at least partially complicit in watching grown men destroy one another and slowly give themselves irreversible brain damage for my amusement.
Now, I know that these are men that are compensated well for the game that they play, and that nobody is holding a gun to their head and forcing them to put the pads on. But that same study also looked at the brains of 14 high school football players who had died without ever stepping foot onto a college football field – tragic circumstances, I’m sure – and nine of those brains showed signs of CTE.
It’s one thing when adults who understand the risk of playing the game that they love – and have the mental capacity to fully weigh the consequences – and make the decision to do what they feel is best for their family, but it’s another when you’re talking about a kid with a brain that is still developing.
No, I’m not saying that football needs to be done away with, and no, I’m not trying to be an alarmist naysayer. But with the recent medical findings into brain injuries now surfacing, I think that as fans we have to take a closer look at the game that we celebrate for its brutality and how much of that brutality we’re willing to part with if it means that our young men don’t have lifelong consequences for doing something that’s offered in schools as a way to build and develop character.
I have years before my son is even eligible to begin playing football, but I don’t think if I had to make the decision today I could sign that waiver knowing what I know now.
It’s sad that it has come to this point, and it’s scary to think about how this will impact the future of a game that we all know and love.
But simply ignoring the risks, or refusing to talk about how to mitigate them, is simply reckless and irresponsible.