Monday, May 17, 2010

Jury Duty

I had jury duty today. At juror orientation, they always play a video that tells about the importance and uniqueness of America's justice system with its jury trials. It's inspirational enough that it gets me choked up a little every time.

About half an hour after juror start time, one of the judges comes in and gives us a judge's perspective. Today's judge told us something I hadn't heard before, about the good that we do as jurors just by our seemingly endless waiting.

He told us that we get there at 8:00, and then at about 8:30 to 9:00, the attorneys and plaintiffs and defendants and everyone connected to the trials start arriving. They go through security right next to the jurors' lounge, and they see us there, ready to be selected to decide a verdict for their trial.

Just seeing us there, waiting, is enough to help light a fire under them, in the way a deadline can help get us to make a decision at the last minute. The judge said that our waiting serves a valuable purpose. As cases go to trial and juries are called for selection, and as the potential jurors are forced to wait, much of that waiting time is spent by the attorneys coming to an agreement rather than letting a group of twelve unknown people decide their fate.

It reminded me of the trial I was sent to a few years ago. It was a civil case about a dog attack, and the two parties had spent 4 or 5 years fighting about it and never coming to an agreement, until it finally went to trial. We spent most of the first day in jury selection, and they still hadn't found their twelve plus alternates when they sent us home and told us to come back at 9:00 in the morning. That next day, instead of calling us in to question more people, they left us cooling our heels for over an hour in the hallway, while several people grumbled about how we were being treated. Then the bailiff came out and told us the two parties had come to a settlement, and he thanked us and sent us home.

The judge this morning mentioned the jurors' grumbling as they wait. He said, "When you jurors are out waiting, we're in the courtroom watching TV and eating chips and drinking beer." We laughed. Then he got serious and said that while juries wait, they're doing what they can to speed the process along.

He gave the example of one trial he presided over lately, one that was expected to last six weeks. After the opening arguments, the judge sent the jury out of the room and called the attorneys forward. He told them that there were five points to be decided in the trial, but their opening arguments showed that they agreed on three of those points. He asked the attorneys how many of their 60 witnesses would be testifying about those three points of agreement. By having the jury wait in boredom and possible irritation for twenty minutes, the judge was able to get the trial cut from six weeks down to only three and a half weeks, but he couldn't tell the jury that until after the trial was over.

So, the next time you're sitting and waiting... and waiting on jury duty, just remember how important your waiting can be.

How did my waiting go? I wasn't picked for the first of four trials scheduled for today, so I waited until almost lunchtime. And then they announced that one of the trials wasn't ready for a jury yet, another one was delayed until next week, and the last trial came to a settlement, so we were free to go. I got my timesheet stamped and went to work for the afternoon. I'm glad all the crocheting I did while I waited helped the cause of justice today.

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