Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Civic Duty

Yesterday I had jury duty. This is the third time I have been called, so I pretty much knew what to expect. My husband made plans to stay at home with the kids for the expected two to three days of my service. I left with a couple of books. Then, it went all downhill. My name was called along with 39 other people for a civil trial. I should have known by the sheer number of people called that this was a big case. Sure enough, the judge informs us that the lawyers expect the case to take two weeks. That is right, TWO weeks. The judge asks if that would be an extreme hardship for anyone. I should have stood up. But, I am way too naive and thought, well it isn't extreme..., plus, I really doubted I would be called (yes, sometimes I do live in my own world). Well, about 15 other people weren't so naive and were excused right away. Still, it didn't sink in that it would be two weeks. They called in twenty more and then broke for lunch.

This is where the panic started to set in. I called my husband, who immediately sounded the alarm that there was no way he could miss work, and who in the world would watch the kids!?!? I thought, "keep cool, you still probably won't be chosen". But I was getting nervous. After lunch, the serious questioning began. It became very clear how big and complex the case is. As the questions progressed, it also became very obvious that a significant amount of possible jurors would not be ideal actual jurors. Thus, increasing my chances of being chosen.

I started getting more and more nervous about the situation. Sure, I could manage a few days, probably even a week, but TWO weeks? How? I really believe in doing your civic duty. I don't like to shirk my responsibilities. I don't like not rising to the occasion, but I just couldn't figure out a way to make it work.

The lawyers finally finished their questioning and were going to recess to select the jurors. I was pretty confident I would be chosen. I raised my hand and asked to speak to the judge. He was visibly irritated (it was getting pretty late in the day). I insisted that I speak to him. This is a big deal because I don't ever like to make a scene of myself. I would rather do almost anything then have the spotlight on me. He finally let me approach the bench and called the lawyers over. I pleaded my case, almost breaking down in tears. A couple of the lawyers were very annoyed and couldn't understand why I didn't have anyone able to watch my children. Don't I have parents? Well, yes, but they are in Iowa. In-laws? Yes, but they both work full-time. Friends? Yes, but they work or have their own busy lives. Daycare? No, I don't. Finally, the judge took pity and excused me. I left feeling shaken, stressed, and that I had totally done something wrong.

I don't know what the solution is. Obviously, we need jurors. We need a wide variety of people to be on juries. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect system. There are lots of barriers to overcome to be on a jury, not to mention the incredibly low compensation. I don't know how to overhaul the system, but I am increasingly realizing that something needs to be done. I would be interested in hearing any ideas you all might have.


Bridgett said...

I like jury duty, but I've never been on a case that lasted more than a day and a half. It would be an extreme hardship for me at this point, but give me a few more years and I could do maybe a week. I don't know about two weeks...maybe with neighbors and sisters and parents I could. But it would be a hardship.

It might be nice if we could be called to jury duty and given a year's span to do it--I mean, we could have the opportunity to pick the week and also call the morning of to see if they need anyone, if my number is going to come up before lunch, or after lunch, or the next day. The worst part is the waiting for voir dire, in my opinion.

iBeth said...

What a difficult situation. I think it's great that you were honest rather than just trying to avoid being picked by saying outrageous things.