Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thoughts on Jury Duty

When I received my summons, I was of two minds. First, I had a sense of dread brought on by the memory of my last experience in criminal court. (As a juror for those of you who wondered.) Second, I had this dream that I could go sit in the jury assembly room, drink my hot chocolate and read uninterrupted for a couple of hours.

My contention with jury duty last time was that I found it incredibly stressful to decide another person's future. I know that they made bad choices, but I didn't relish the responsibility. I also didn't like making decisions with only partial information. However, I also believe that my country requires the service of good, reasonable people in order to function in a good, reasonable way, so I did my best.

I am concerned by the number of people who believe that any time and effort they spend on the workings of democracy is too much. Not just those who learn the phrases that will get them out of jury duty, but also the ones who want to elect officials and then wash their minds of any further responsibility. How can we blame elected officials for doing the wrong thing if we don't keep informed? Is anyone else really, really bothered by this latest economic stimulus package?

After several weeks of ignoring advice from others on how to respond during voir dire so that I would be released, today finally arrived. I arose at the same time as usual, put on the same clothes I wear to work, because there is a dress code for jury duty, and drove downtown. I was able to park in the jury lot for fifty cents less than my jury pay was expected to be. This was a good omen, as the other lots charge $8-$10 a day. I found a seat in the back where the row consists of 2 seats, opened my book, put up the flap on my hot chocolate lid and began to relax.

As I sat, I realized that I felt SAFE in a manner that is uncommon now that we live in the big city. It took me awhile to put my finger on the reason, but as the jury duty video played in the background, I figured it out. Everyone in the room is a good, upstanding citizen. There are no felons, no one is facing felony charges, no one is insane. Since jury rolls are taken from voting lists, nobody is uncouth (young) enough to listen to loud music, make-out, or shout into cell phones. There are no children to make my teacher eye pop out. There are no sleep-deprived mothers of children under 10 (only sleep-deprived mothers of teenagers), and everyone missing had already lied and turned in their exemptions. People sat with an empty seat between them and minded their own business.

Juxtapose this experience against a PTO meeting at the school where I teach. Parents who speak little English talking on cell phones, carrying on loud conversations with profanity and raucous laughter while the principal is trying to impress upon them the importance of their children's education, while said children (and their siblings - both younger and older) run across the tops of the lunchroom tables or up and down the steps on the stage and then finally pandemonium when the police were called because two parents got into a fight over who the mother of both their children should sit with. Amazing. I briefly consider a career as a court clerk or bailiff - so orderly.

The jury duty video (repeated in 3 languages even though you can't serve if you aren't fluent in English) was low enough I could block it out. Loren Jackson, our recently elected district clerk, has apparently been elected because of his stand-up routine. After his one-liners, they administer the oath and begin calling groups. 5 groups go to criminal court, 4 to civil court and 2 or 3 to family court. Three times bailiffs return to the jury assembly room to call names of people missing from their group. They actually know if you are missing! Wow! I miss the last group by 11 numbers.

One group comes back - evidently an attorney didn't show up or something. We are advised to pay for our parking to avoid lines later in the day. I do so. Then they announce that we can donate our jury duty pay - all $6 of it - to either a victims group or Child Protective Services. I fill out the paperwork to make my selection and am touched by how many people are willing to donate during a tough economy. I also notice the scornful, disbelieving looks of those who choose not to donate. They obviously think we are crazy. Because the difference between me and a millionaire is $6?

I finish my book. Wow - I used to read a book a day and lately a book lasts me 2 weeks. I'm starting to get my things together - obviously I won't be needed today. Uh oh, the computer screens light up with another list of numbers. Mine's not there. Oh, its the group that got sent back. I guess the attorney finally showed up.

We are given final instructions and thanked for our service. (Thank you! Finishing that book was a treat compared to my Tuesday classes.) They release us to the survival of the fastest danger of the freeways and the rabid routine of real life.

I think I'm going to miss jury duty. Not because it is peaceful, convenient, or fun, rather because sacrificing a little for the betterment of others is worth it.

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