A pox on the house of those D.C. Superior Court officials who decided to close the courthouse cafeteria last week. No doubt they all live in Maryland and have never had to do jury service in their own courthouse.
Court officials said they axed cafeteria to make way for a new facility for the U.S. Marshal’s Service. But I suspect a conspiracy by the Cosi lobbyists. Among the many great things about the old courthouse cafeteria was that it was cheap, the food was hot, and there was always somewhere to sit. Now, those of us relegated to jury service, as I am today, are forced to patronize overcrowded and overpriced eateries surrounding the courthouse to grab a bite to eat. This might not be a big deal to the highly paid attorneys who walk the courthouse halls, but for the average Joes who make up the jury pool, this is major hardship.
Many people called in for jury duty don’t get paid by their employers for missing work. All they get is the $4 in transportation fees paid by the court, and, if they get called to actually serve on a jury rather than just hang out in the lounge watching movies (today’s feature: the 1995 hit, The Net, starring Sandra Bullock), they get a paltry $30 a day—not even minimum wage. So jury duty is a major money loser for anyone with a working-class job. Add to that the cost of having to eat out, and jury duty becomes a very expensive civic duty. Today, soup and a diet Snapple at the Cosi across from the courthouse set me back almost $8. Eight bucks at the old cafeteria would have bought me an entire hot meal that might have included mashed potatoes, a cookie, and ring-side seat for some courthouse drama. Instead, I was lucky to score an uncomfortable stool at Cosi, which was packed to the gills now that no one can eat in the courthouse.
And then there’s the hassle factor. After jurors stand in line at a nearby fast-food joint, they have to stand in the security line behind all the thugs checking their knives to get back into the courthouse, put their pizza in the X-ray machine, and then find some place to eat it. Without the cafeteria, there is no good place to eat without getting grease on your pants. Perhaps the ultimate indignity is that while jurors shuffle off in the wind to forage for food, the judges will continue to dine in. Superior Court judges make $162,000 a year, leave by five, and have eight weeks of paid vacation, making it one of the cushier posts around. But their private dining room, in the basement of the courthouse, has been spared from the Marshals’ expansion. The only reason they’ll have to schlep outside in the cold is if they have a real hankering for a lemon danish at Au Bon Pain, which doesn’t come as part of their subsidized courthouse dining package.