If called to jury duty, this might help you know what to expect.
Last winter, the day started out a good day……then, in the mail, an envelope saying LEGAL NOTICE brought a dark tingle of dread. Reading a letter from the Office of Jury Commission, I read I was summoned to the Convention Center in 3 weeks for jury duty selection.
Well, hell. Oh geez. Trepidation, then anxiety.
A fear on my BIG FEAR LIST was coming to pass. Let me state here and now, I have a chicken-livered, irrational, and dysfunctional fear concerning being on a jury and being part of a team that might send a person, incorrectly to jail. In my personal life, I’ve learned to angry-up when someone does-me-wrong, but I have no desire to ever control another’s actions and being part of a decision to send someone to prison is extreme controlling I didn’t feel prepared for.
Nurturing my pitifulness, spooked with the possible power over someone’s life, and pissed off that after all these years, the Jury Commission pulled my name, I felt the need to reach out and vent these toxic thoughts with any friend unfortunate enough to answer the phone…..and that would be Tim. Possibly a therapist in another life, he listened to my rant, my rave, my agitation, answering any questions he could, giving me all the time in the world to wind down with my ticked-off-to-do, and then calmly bottom lined it – I needed to soldier up and do my duty. This was my honor and I needed to cease and desist my complaining, simmer down, settle my feathers, and quit fretting. On some level, I thought he was sending his eyes heavenward as he shared his opinion he knew would help me ‘woman-up’. He knows me well.
Ok, alright. I was going to take a moment. Try and acclimate…..rally. But as I realized a week or more could be involved, I saw a problem getting gluten-free and soy-free foods for me to eat. I’m not able to digest gluten and it’s not a problem as long as I don’t eat gluten. On occasion, I’ve cheated and usually only end up with a headache. But eating it for days after days could make me a walking migraine. I thought a doctor’s note was needed only my doctor was taking a short time-out for knee surgery. Unwisely, I decided to wait on the dr’s note and just explain my gluten dilemma when I was to appear downtown in 3 weeks. I felt the Powers-that-Be would cut me loose from serving once they sympathetically understood I couldn’t eat their food.
Are you laughing?……you should be.
On the day to appear, I went downtown, paid an arm and a leg for parking, short-hiked it to the second floor of the convention center and waited outside the doors to the gathering room with 4,000 other people. We chatted among ourselves. Previous knowledge or hearsay of what to expect was speculated on. I talked to more than a few people who had been called before but never made it to being on a jury and had high hopes that would, also be my fate. Our bonding continued, after all, we were in the same boat. Somehow, there were moments I felt like the character in the song ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.
Then the In-Charge-People came and explained our next steps, beginning with ‘there will be no questions asked during this talk’. What happened next –
- Anyone, and only anyone with a dr’s note will wait until all 4,000 people are signed up and have left and then the note people will share their dr’s notes with the In-Charge.
- We were given a dress code for the week of our duty – no tank tops, no shorts, no yoga pants or tights, no low cut clothes, any pants women wore couldn’t show any leg or any ankle, and no controversial wording on clothes, no pants hanging extra low on men. Anyone wearing inappropriate clothing will be sent home to change and come back immediately while the trial/courtroom waits.
- We were given a series of dates over a few months (of one week each) and were told to pick one week to serve. We’d be paid $11.00 a day with no taxes taken out.
- We were given a phone number for emergencies and updates if bad weather created a problem.
Not having a dr’s note, I picked my week a couple of months away. Later, I did get my Dr’s office to fax a letter downtown. Unfortunately, since I waited, I was told to appear on my week and if I was selected to be on a jury, show my note to the judge and he would decide if I stayed or left.
My week came, downtown I went, paid an arm and a leg for parking and went to the designated jury assembly room and sat along with 500 other people. Hearing earlier I might spend the whole day waiting in this room, I came prepared with a gluten free snack (but no refrig, so no real meal), my dr’s note, and a book to read. Deciding my anxiety and jury fear might get the best of me, I chose a racy book ensured to keep my attention. So as I sat with 500 others, reading my spicy novel, I tried not to concentrate on this ordeal and my cowardliness. Eventually we were greeted with more Powers-that-Be and their instructions.
- 8 groups of 50 people each would be called and would line up and be taken across the street to 8 judge’s divisions to possibly be on their jury.
- Of course, I was called and over I went with 400 other people, all of us waiting our turns to go thru the 2 metal detectors and then find our floor, divisions, courtroom and judge assigned.
- Inside the courtroom, we sat and heard about the upcoming trial, saw the person accused, met the prosecution and the defense and the Judge. 15 random people were chosen from our group of 50 to be possible jurors. Questions were asked of the 15 and later that day the rest of us were dismissed. But I’d not dodged the bullet, we were told to report back tomorrow to the jury assembly room to possibly be called for another trial.
The next day, downtown I went, paid an arm and a leg for parking and sat, again, in the jury assembly room, with around 200 other people, waiting. Once again, my name was called and over I went through the metal detector to another Judge’s division with 49 other people.
This day the gravity of life’s crimes disbursed the superficial that capture’s our attention on many days. We heard about the upcoming trial of a child repeatedly molested. This was a case we would hear from the child, police, professionals, family, and others. Thank goodness, the Judge had such a balancing feeling about him, an air of unvarnished truth and wisdom and I tried to find my strength thru his presence. I’ll say now, I greatly admire everyone working in the judicial system and applaud their strength and intent. Once again, 15 random names were called…..and they called mine. As we sat in the juror chairs, we were questioned by the prosecution and the defense. (Since I found out the Judge had a small refrig, there was no reason to worry about eating allergic foods). The lawyers were intelligent, amicable, and had understandable temerity as they asked us about our lives looking for any conflicts of interest. Seemingly bland questions on reflection, showed a searching to delve deeply into each of us. And the inevitable question soon followed….Each potential was asked if we had experienced sexual abuse or if someone close to us had.
Well, it was a time people bared some very sad past moments. When the lawyer got to me, I, like everyone else, wasn’t comfortable recounting a past event, but knew it was needed. After my divorce, while in grad school, I had a first date who went from a normal guy to an attacking drunk. Left bruised but saved by someone before I was date-raped, at the time I felt first scared, then just plain lucky….and then mad.
About a fourth of the potentials had past sexual abuses or someone close to them that had and I realized sex is a popular weapon of choice for too many people. I also saw the reasoning why 50 potential jurors were called for each trial.
This courtroom permeated sadness, and the child hadn’t even appeared. Some potentials were released, not me, and I tried to summon up the strength for what was to come. After lunch, more potentials were questioned and at the end of the day around 10 more potentials were released from the trial, me being one of them…..Outside the courtroom, an officer told us we didn’t have to come back the next day to the jury assembly room but had finished our jury duty and wouldn’t be called again for 10 years.
I was so thankful, I shook his hand until he made me stop…..with a smile. I walked outside, talking to another in our group, a man with such kindness in his eyes….who had been abused as a child. It started to rain as we walked to our cars and I offered him a gluten-free bar for his drive out of town for his job. We parted and with the day’s events sucking the joy from the air, I just cried as I drove home.