Nearly two months ago the little woman burst through the front door, mail in hand, and gleefully announced I’d received my very first ever summons for jury duty. I peered at the summons, checked the date (still weeks away at that point) and tossed it on my stack of shame (those bits of paper I’m afraid to throw away). I’d get back to it, but our impending trip to Scottsdale was much more interesting at that moment.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I mentioned the summons to various folks, all of who expressed their sympathy and offered generous, if unsolicited, advice about how to avoid being chosen. But I have to admit, I was kind of excited about this opportunity (yes, I said opportunity), particularly once I learned that my company would pay me for my jury duty time.
Off to the courthouse I trundled on my appointed Monday—strangely proud to be juror #57. Those of us with numbers 1-196 were to come this day, but I estimated that only about 60 people actually showed up. Among the attendees were many who seemed very unhappy to be there. One older guy lambasted the poor courthouse worker bee when the coffee machine failed to deliver his coffee properly. Many grumbled about the poor attendance. Others talked rumbly amongst themselves, reminding me of school children denied recess. Once the young women in charge got us settled, we watched a video about our justice system, a nice refresher in civics, actually, and awaited further instructions. And waited. And waited some more. The wheels of justice seemed to be turning awfully slowly.
I spent my time gazing at the potential pool of jurors–and grew a little alarmed at the thought that some of these folks could be entrusted with a life and death decision. At that point, none of us yet knew the type of trial we might be chosen for. Would I want the smelly guy behind me sitting in judgment of anyone I knew? How about the lady in front who slept through most of the instructions? Or the “gentleman” who got angry about the coffee? Or the people who clearly did not want to be there? The gravity of my duty as a citizen began to sneak up on me.
Finally, the bailiff herded us upstairs to the courtroom where we would meet the lawyers who would then choose fourteen of us (two alternates) for their upcoming case. The bailiff reordered us and gave us bright yellow numbered badges to wear. Via some sort of fuzzy lawyer math my juror number jumped from #57 to #15, and I found myself seated alarmingly close to the jury box.
Visions of Law and Order
danced in my head, along with 12 Angry Men
, To Kill a Mockingbird,
and oddly, long repressed black and white memories of Ironsides
. Before the lawyers were introduced, the judge waxed philosophically for quite a long time (maybe an hour and a half) on the history of our judicial system, its roots in 13th century England, the cruelty of King John resulting in the Magna Carta
. Fascinating. I had finally arrived at the point in my life where all of those K-12 social studies classes became relevant. This moment was what Mr. Football Coach/ history teacher was referring to when he so eloquently bellowed at us that “History is LIFE!”
The lawyers outlined the basics of the case (a divorce gone awry resulting in charges against the husband: burglary, violation of a no contact order, and assault) and began asking questions, encouraging all potential jurors to participate. Gone, they said, were the long days of individual juror interviews. The defendant looked so hang dog, I felt sorry for him. And having had some experience myself with family law, I had a few choice thoughts on the efficacy said system. I took their invitation to participate seriously, piping up a few times during the questioning, as did many other potential jurors. Clearly some folks had axes to grind, others had been children of divorce, their childhoods products of the court’s decision-making process; one lady knew the defendant and expressed her dismay at finding him in such a spot, genuinely sad for him.
Each lawyer got six uncontested juror dismissals, and I was amazed at how quickly the jury box began emptying as the lawyers began whittling down the pool:
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 1.”
“The defense thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 3.”
“The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 5.”
Until, “The state thanks and respectfully dismisses juror number 15.”
And so on. We The Dismissed were asked to stand along the courtroom wall, and by the time each attorney had used up his six uncontested dismissals, most of those who had spoken up during questioning lined the walls. The bailiff collected our jury number badges and freed us with a reminder that we still had two weeks in which we could be called for another trial.
Lesson #1: Keep my mouth shut if I want to serve on a jury.