After weeks of threatening, my county courthouse finally summoned me to jury duty yesterday. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:
7:58 AM – Arrived at courthouse 2 minutes before required time. Walked into gorgeous old late-19th-century building, signed in, and sat down in a room of about 25 other people. Was handed a previously used pamphlet titled “All Rise: Jury Service in Minnesota.”
8:06 AM – I’d read the pamphlet. Shallow as this sounds, it contained nothing I hadn’t already learned from watching “Law and Order” about a thousand times, not to mention some of the old Perry Mason movies and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (or, insert your favorite courtroom drama here).
8:07 AM – Looked around the room for coffee. No luck.
8:11 AM – Everyone is just sitting around. The two court officers who signed me in are standing in the hallway outside the room. The man I’m sitting next to, with tattoos up and down both arms, reeks of cigarette smoke.
8:14 AM – Still no activity on the part of the court people. We all sit calmly and wonder what we’re waiting for.
8:17 AM – I pull a book out of my purse – “The Priestly Sins” by Andrew Greeley – and start to read. I’m already about 3/4 of the way through the book and I’d prefer to save the ending for a night when I’m warm and comfy at home (and in my robe and slippers if possible, with a cat on my lap), but I can’t just sit and stare into space. I don’t want to start making meaningless conversation with strangers, either. To obnoxiously quote the women on “The Bachelorette,” I’m not here to make friends!
8:35 AM – I look up from my book and wonder why we are still sitting there. People are chatting quietly. A couple of belligerent 20-something women near me (who also smell like cigarettes) start their apparently daily inane banter. They seem to be good friends. They make cheap shots, under their breath, at the elderly court officers and snicker like 12 year olds. What are the chances that they both got summoned for this jury pool? Anyway, it’s true and they clearly require no wit to amuse each other.
8:36 AM – Mr. Tattoos & Nicotine sitting next to me, approximately age 30, also starts snickering at their stupidity. I think to myself, I wonder if these people have ever read a book. I’m such a snob.
8:40 AM – Action! A court officer walks into the room and informs us that 36 people were summoned, but only 29 have shown up, so the court has begun to phone the missing 7 people because the judge wants a nice big jury pool for this trial. I go back to my book.
8:43 AM – I can no longer stand the smell of cigarette smoke. I’ve had my quota of it for the year. I say friendlily (?) to the tattooed man, “It’s not you, but I’m going to check out that chair at the table. My back is killing me in these wooden chairs.” I try out a different kind of chair, one of the only empty chairs in the room, about 7 feet away and pretend it’s much better for my poor back. I move permanently to that chair. The air is warm but not smelly here.
8:50 AM – 9:25 AM – Within these 35 minutes, 4 bored people, all under the age of 30, saunter into the room, neglect to sign in, nonchalantly take a seat, and do not appear to feel at all guilty, apologetic, or even flustered that they had forgotten to appear for jury duty, and that an entire roomful of people, plus a judge, two attorneys, and a defendant have all been WAITING for THEM.
(Note: Throughout the course of the day, I learn that 2 of the 4 late people are teachers in our local school district. Impressive.)
9:26 AM – The court officer tells us how the day will go. We now have 33 potential jurors for today’s case, and the other 3 people in the pool just aren’t reachable. (Shouldn’t they be fined or something? No one asks.)
9:26 AM – We watch a 15-minute videotape, circa 1991, about what jury duty is.
9:40 AM – We sit around and wait. I open my book again.
10:10 AM – Just when I’m thinking I might have to use the restroom, the court officers come in and read our names with numbers. We are to walk downstairs and enter the courtroom, and get seated according to our numbers. After two long hours of simply waiting, I suddenly realize that I do not have time to use the restroom before being escorted into the courtroom. The irony makes me smile to myself.
10:20 AM – The judge reads instructions and an interpreter translates all the instructions to the defendant, who does not speak or understand much English. We learn that this gentleman is on trial for growing and selling marijuana. He is about 35 years old, and is of Hmong descent, according to the judge, who explains the defendant’s right to have an interpreter. We learn that this criminal trial is expected to last 3-4 days. Sort of exciting.
10:30 AM – The defense attorney begins questioning juror numbers 1 through 22, who are at the front of the que for the jury pool. I am # 25, so I don’t have to answer any questions yet. The defense attorney appears to be a 14-year-old boy dressed in his father’s suit, but he must be a prodigy because he’s obviously very smart and competent.
10:50 AM – Back to the deliberation room, all of us. The lawyers need to talk to the judge! And I can now use the restroom.
11:05 AM – Back to the courtroom. One potential juror is dismissed and juror #23 leaves my group and joins the que being questioned. The defense attorney keeps asking questions.
11:20 AM – Back to the deliberation room and Andrew Greeley. There is still no coffee or anything to eat, but there is now a carafe of room-temperature water and some environmentally hazardous styrofoam cups, so we help ourselves.
11:30 AM – Back to the courtroom. Another potential juror is dismissed because he simply seems to be an asshole (“I just don’t want to be here and I didn’t even listen to what the judge said earlier,”), so juror #24, who is sitting next to me, joins the que. I am next to join the que if anyone else gets dismissed!
11:31 AM – The defense attorney is done with questions. The prosecutor, a thirty-something woman with beautiful shoes, begins questioning the jury. One of her first questions pertains to health. She asks a woman in the back row, wearing a red sweater,who has been constantly coughing, sneezing, and sniffling since 8:00 this morning, if she feels all right. The woman confirms that she feels fine.
The woman seated next to her volunteers, “but I am a little uncomfortable.”
11:35 AM – Still on the question of illness and being able to be a juror. The prosecutor asks if anyone has a sick family member that they need to be caring for or who could have something contagious. The woman in the red sweater, in between sneezes and coughs, enthusiastically raises her hand and announces, as if she has just won the lottery, “My grandson has H1N1!”
How it all turned out
A few moments later, the attorneys spent some time deciding who they would kick off the jury and who they wanted on it.
Red sweater woman got sent home.
Two of the four people who were late for court that day were placed on the jury.
One woman who told the attorneys she’d like to serve “so I can get out of going to work and do something different” was chosen to serve.
I had never even made it to the que, so I was sent home (actually, back to work). But I still have about 2 months of my summons period left so maybe I’ll still have a chance to be a juror.
I was paid $10 for my service for the day. Jurors used to get $40. We were not given anything but water to consume. Jurors used to get coffee and rolls. When I walked into the courthouse and went to the Information Desk, a note stated: “Due to budget cuts, our Information Desk is unstaffed.” The elevator in the courthouse did not work, either, and I felt bad for a couple of potential jurors who had trouble with all the stairs.
Oh well, it’s a recession. We all do our best.
A few pretty-much-unrelated items, but which I feel belong in this post because they are law-related:
- I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg! This is one classy, smart woman!
- And I love Olivia Benson, too. Another smart woman who doesn’t take any crap!
I’ve wandered from jury duty to Olivia Benson. A bit of a reach. Time to sign off.