Jury duty. Love it or hate it, it’s part of our civic responsibilities. Sometimes you’re summoned, but your group number is high and you don’t have to report.
This time, no such luck. I reported for potential jury duty this morning at 8:30.
I take this sort of thing seriously, and worry about messing up, so I left the house at 7:33 giving myself plenty of time. I drove ten minutes to the light rail station, boarded the train and arrived in front of the courthouse at 8:00. Not bad! I waited in line, cleared security, waited in another line, and learned I was at the wrong courthouse.
A snappish worker barked “there’s no one here today.” Now it was 8:10. I retraced my steps, got back on the train, and went two more stops. From there I hoofed it three long blocks, repeated the same security procedures, and after one elevator ride and a short line I was finally where I needed to be. It was eight-thirty-ish by then, but no one seemed to mind.
I’m waiting in a room with about 100 prospective jurors. We’ve each been assigned to a group. I figured out the wi-fi so I can wile away the wait time.
We’re called to a courtroom two floors up . Our group of sixty makes it to the 4th floor, and we’re seated in the courtroom. After we’re sworn in by the bailiff we meet both attorneys and the judge. The courtroom judge is welcoming but he also makes it clear that hardship excuses will only be honored in extreme cases. 15 people line up anyway. The rest of us return to the second floor
10: 28 Good Times at the Vending Machine.
Boredom and snacks frequently go hand in hand. I arrive to see a woman trying to feed the machine with a two dollar bill. I can tell she’s been at it for a while, as she turns and leaves in disgust. I feel for her. I buy a bottle of water with a five dollar bill, then wait for her to return. She graciously accepts my two dollars in quarters in exchange for the cranky two dollar bill and waits for her turn at the machine. The man in front of us isn’t having much lucky either. His coins drop, but the swirling arm in the machine refuses to deliver his snack. It’s partially extended but not dropping. The three of us stand there commiserating. We all give the machine a few thwacks but the fig bar refuses to budge. Then the woman offers him her remaining quarters, and at last he’s rewarded with his original snack and a spare. A wonderful bonding experience that we can all write home about.
We’re all back in the courtroom again, two flights up. Roll call, stand up, sit down and further instructions. The law clerk calls the first 18 names at random, including mine. We all file into the jury box and one by one answer a series of questions from a piece of paper. More questions follow from the judge. Then the defense attorney approaches the group and the questions continue until noon.
12:00 – 1:30
Lunch…with a mom I used to volunteer with when our sons were in grade school. She’s in my group! What are the odds? We’re under strict instructions not to talk about any of the intense material covered the hour before. I find myself thinking of 100 things I want to say, but stopping myself every time. It’s such a strange day.
Second floor jury room
Fourth floor courtroom, back in our seats. More questioning from attorney number two. The attorney’s gather in whispers with the judge. Then they excuse six of the original 18 prospective jurors and six more join us in the box. The judge announces that we’ve all passed the prospective juror “test”. The judge announces the next phase: peremptory challenges. Then in rapid fire order, the attorneys took turns making peremptory challenges, and on the second or third round my name came up.
In my relief and exhaustion, I board the wrong train. I correct my mistake, eventually make it home, and by 4:30 I’m snoozing on the couch.
Epilogue: Reflecting back on the day’s intensity, I think the biggest challenge is the amount of new information coming at you, interspersed with the mundane. Sitting on a jury is serious business and you want to get it right. I mostly feel intense relief that the day is done with complete empathy for the final twelve jurors of the day.
Have you served on a jury before? What was it like? Would you want to do it again?