I was already having a bad enough day when I made the mistake of going to the mailbox. Anyone who reads me regularly knows many of my problems begin with something coming in the mail. Recent receipt of a jury duty summons served to reinforce that unfortunate pattern.
“Tell them you are too busy and can’t make it,” advised my son. I told him the jury board doesn’t care because everyone feels that way. Can you think of anyone who actually likes having his/her life blown up by being summoned to jury duty?
“Summoned” sounds deceptively friendly. Kind of like your grandma standing in her apron on the back porch, beckoning you to stop playing long enough for a snack. “Yoo hoo, kids . . . I just baked some chocolate chip cookies. Can you pause your game of freeze tag long enough to have a cookie and milk? It’ll do you good.”
Good is not how the current juror summons process feels. The computer-generated document that requests your presence on the jury panel is far less patient, understanding and accommodating than your grandma. And the stuff you have to give up in order to free up time to be at the courthouse is a lot less forgiving and harder to put aside than a childhood game: your adulthood livelihood!
I was one of the lucky ones because I have an understanding employer that was willing to pay me for the time I missed work to be at jury duty. I’ve met other potential jurors who were farmers, waiters and hair stylists – not eligible for compensation beyond the pittance paid for this major disruption of their lives.
Seated with the other jury duty hostages, I settled back and watched the pre-requisite voir dire orientation video that used waving patriotic flags, close-ups of shiny scales of justice and dramatic music to convince me I was an integral part of a rich criminal justice tradition, not some poor sap whose living was being jeopardized for two weeks of possibly deciding on cases which might, ironically, involve people who apparently found the time to exercise poor judgment, criminal intent or to make false accusations.
The video said the jury selection process is fair. I disagree. Opposing attorneys interview potential jurors and pick and choose who they want. Instead of letting counsel play God, a practice that regularly backfires no matter what the setting, jury selection should be entirely random, like the rest of the world. Eeny meeny miny mo.
I hate having to play the jury audition game, recognizing no defense attorney worth his/her salt wants a former probation agent serving in judgment capacity of his/her accused client. I have to report to jury duty, anyway, and hope they quickly draw my name, question and eliminate me.
Unfortunately, that only excuses me from the case at hand. A person not selected to the first jury remains eligible for other cases that require jurors, and therefore continues to remain on standby. It appears kinder to be selected to a jury panel right off the bat. At least you have more notice of when you will be needed in court. And if the case takes only a couple of days to reach a verdict, you are off the hook for the rest of the two-week period.
That was not in the cards for me. I had to keep my schedule clear, which I believed wiser than putting out someone else at my workplace to reschedule all my appointments or to cover for me. It was a tenuous pain to have to call the jury hotline after 5 PM daily to find out what the next day would hold. I felt as if my life were on hold.
Holding a driver’s license or state identification card is what opens a person to potential jury service under the current system. Is there a more fair way to select jurors? Maybe. I think they should monitor people’s TV viewing. Those who watch the most criminal justice-oriented programs and court TV shows should become jury candidates. Give them more of what they already seem to like and leave the likes of me off jury service. Case settled.