Monday, April 18, 2011

Jury Duty: An Inconvenient Truth

So I was called to Jury Duty today.

Now before I get started, let me just say that I am a huge fan of the American jury system. It is practically the only thing we do besides voting that even comes close to a manifestation of being citizens of the county, state and nation. It is a necessary function. It is an honorable thing to do when you serve on a jury.

I just wish the people who call you up to serve, to do the honorable thing, didn’t make your life miserable while you were doing the honorable thing.

Jury Duty is never a convenient thing. Most people have lives - even I have a life - that have to be put on hold for a few hours, a day or two, or in the extreme cases of weeks at a time. But we all agree that Jury Duty is just that, a duty. One that one must perform from time to time.

So I was inconvenienced today, as were my 151 students who were set to doing what they call “book work” by their hand-picked substitute teacher.

And not wanting them to be further inconvenienced, and not wanting to assign more mindless “book work” I arrived right at the appointed hour to a roomful of fellow jurors who don’t know about what you do to avoid getting picked.

You arrive at the last minute and you sit in the back.

Then the district clerk’s staff read some words from a paper that must be 30 years old because nothing is mentioned about cell phones. You are read the riot act about all the bad things that happen to you if you fail to appear (we were all there) and finally told that we were not allowed to leave the room or would be escorted back inside by a bailiff. And then they show a video on Jury Duty. About 10 minutes long. By that time the judge is supposed to have arrived.

But he doesn’t arrive. First the district staffers have no explanation then an explanation that the judge is in a very important hearing. Doubtful. So the staffer jokes that maybe we wanted to see the video again, getting some laughs, and then she showed the video again.

Twice more.

It wasn’t a joke.

Sitting in the back, I had light enough to read my book. Those in front had to sit in the dark - captives. At least I was allowed to read my book.

Things finally got started when the judge arrived about 2 and a half hours after the appearance time on my summons. I got a lot of reading done.

Needless to say, the whole process went at a snail’s pace as people lined up to offer this excuse or that excuse why they should be excused from jury service. I looked at my watch. It was lunchtime. No word on when this was going to end.

Then the speeches began. No, you will not get to know what was said. I am sworn to silence on that.

Some papers needed to be filled out so we then waited for them to be distributed. And then the line formed as they individually processed each juror’s paperwork. During this time an event occurred that, out of respect for privacy, I will decline to describe. Needless to say the EMT truck arrived quickly. Justice moves slowly, but EMTs move like greased lightning.

The whole process from beginning to end, took 7 hours, with maybe 15 minutes of my time actually spent doing something.

I guess my point is, and it’s a vague one, that when people are doing the honorable thing and reporting for Jury Duty, there should be a modicum of respect for them. Getting beaten about the head over what would happen to them if they didn’t show up, when they had already showed up, was a little over the top. That and these people all went to great lengths to report on time. The judge could have respected that.

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