A friend posted a notice on facebook recently that she was doing her civic duty by reporting for jury selection. Reading the responses that ranged from commiseration to advice on how best to have yourself removed from the process, I had the distinct impression everyone was secretly thinking glad it's not me! I know of very few people, including myself, who are excited to get jury notice in the mail. Despite my advanced (!) years, I have only been called up twice.
The first time was in the mid 90's when I was summoned for municipal court in Missoula, MT. I sat in a room with about 30 others while one of the attorneys explained the process, asking us to raise our hands if we agreed with the questions they were going to ask. In a very solemn and serious tone, the DA asked who among us thought our private property should be protected from intruders. All hands went up. Hmmm, I thought, must be a robbery. Do you think you have the right to protect yourself on your own property? Yep, we all agreed with that. Maybe it was a home invasion gone horribly awry. Who owns a dog? My hand and several others shot up. Oh, no! Did a dog attack someone and if so, are we going to have to look at grisly photos of some poor guy's mangled body? Please, please, please don't let it be a child! Is your dog licensed? Wait, what? Do you think all dogs should be licensed? Huh? What if your dog never left the yard, should it still be licensed? That's when I realized the case was not about a home invasion, robbery or gory mangling of body parts. It was about the proper licensing of a pet! With that realization, I laughed out loud. I mean really out loud. As every head in the room swiveled toward me, I laughed again. I was (surprisingly) excused from duty.
The 2nd time I was called for jury duty was just a few years ago while I was living in Georgetown, TX, a town just north of Austin. Hundreds of us sat in an auditorium while various court officials came in, called off names and directed us to report to this or that room. I was chosen for a felony drug case and sat with 50 or so others in a courtroom that looked almost exactly like its counterpart in Missoula but with airconditioning. As before, the attorneys took some time with questions, asking us whether we agreed with this or that and encouraging us to get involved with the discussion about drug use. It was readily apparent that there were lots of people just itching to be on the jury. They asked eager questions, offered earnest, thoughtful remarks, nodded solemnly at the lawyers, agreeing or disagreeing with different comments. Have you ever bought illegal drugs? No one admitted to that. Do you know a drug dealer? A surprising number of folks apparently did. Are you or have you ever been a police officer? There were several of these. The questions went on and on. I sat on the very end of a row at the back of the jury box, next to another quiet woman, both of us silently refusing to engage in any discussion whatsoever, avoiding eye contact with the attorneys as they made their selections. They called out several of the names of the very vocal folks, but mostly ignored them. They were down to the last two slots when they called the name of my silent companion, who responded with a quietly whispered f**k. Yes, that pretty much sums it up, I thought as they called the last name...mine.
Everyone who has ever served on a jury, no matter what type of crime or court, has at least one story. Some are funny, like the one my sister in law told me about the guy who tripped on his pants and fell as he was running away after robbing a minimart, or as they are known in Southern California, a Stop 'n Rob. His only response to not only the image of him falling being shown but also to each witness who came forward and identified him was that's not me. Some stories are scary. My next door neighbor served in a trial where the defendant cursed everyone in the courthouse, screaming that he would kill them all. My jury story? It was boring. Really, really boring. I am not sure what hybrid of Law & Order vs Perry Mason I expected to participate in, but the reality was yawn-inducingly dull. There was a brief time when I was in college that I considered going to law school. I can only say that after spending a week in court I am so happy I decided against spending my life there. Bless the ones who do, we certainly need them. Bless the judges who show up every day to preside over the tedious as well as the sensational. Bless the attorneys who work so hard to both prosecute and defend those who find themselves in sad situations. The hours of preparation they must put in is staggering. Bless the poor court reporter who perhaps has the hardest job of all...not missing a single word. Bless the bailiff who collected our cell phones each day, was unfailingly polite and who stood at attention in the court while we got to sit. Bless the police who were involved in the case and who showed up every day to sit in the back of the room and represent their brothers and sisters. Bless the witnesses who find the courage to come forward to speak for the victims when it might be inconvenient or even dangerous. Bless them all, I'm glad I am not one of them.
But for all of the boredom, the tedium, the inconvenience of serving on a jury, if called again, I will show up. Because I believe in the system, however flawed it might be. If, heaven forbid, one of my friends or a family member ever finds herself on the wrong side of the defense table, I want the jury to include not only those who don't have anything better to do or court groupies eager to wallow in salacious details, but those who don't really want to be there...but who show up anyway.