Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It feels like I haven't written forever! I had to report to federal jury duty the past two days, so I've been offline.

I had rather dreaded jury duty, though my husband and some of my friends who have served on juries had tried to convince me it wasn't that bad. In a way they were right, but I am still grateful that I didn't actually get seated on a jury.

It's the bureacracy that makes it such a hassle. We were told to report by 7:45 promptly, but we didn't actually start the jury selection process until 3:30. In the end, it turned out our judge was hearing the federal elections case about allowing the provisional ballots, though we didn't find that out until much later. We just got a series of short delays. We watched a movie and a half, most of us shared pizza ordered in, and after what felt like forever, it got to be about 2:25. The woman who had mothered us all day came in and announced that we would all be released. The judge wanted to talk to us, and he said he would be down to the jury room at 2:30.

Of course, 2:30 came and went and around 2:45 she announced a change in plans. We were going up to the courtroom and he'd talk to us there. We filed in and sat down and waited a few minutes, and then they announced there had been a change and the case was, indeed, going to trial! (People felt way worse at that point. Hearing that we were going home and having it yanked back a few minutes later was very difficult!)

We were marched out of the courtroom, lined up by juror number, and marched back into the courtroom. The process of selecting jurors finally began at 3:30. At 5:25 it was obvious they could not complete the task that day, so we were sent home. Twelve jurors were released and the remaining 50 of us were told to come back the next morning. (A few had been released throughout the course of the day.) The process would begin at 8:30, we were told, but be there by 8:00.

We were actually ushered back into the courtroom about 9:30 the second morning. Finally, at 10:20, the judge announced that it would take them about 30 minutes to finalize the jury selection. We were to be gathered in the hall at 10:50 to hear the selection.

We were gathered at 10:50, and we had a lovely time to socialize, since they didn't come out to announce the jury until 11:30. After some last minute escape efforts by one of the selected and a thank you from the judge, we left for the day at about 11:50.

Citizens are compensated $40 a day for jury duty. While that doesn't cover what most people make in a day, it still seems like a lot of money to me when I consider that there were about 70 of us the first day and 50 the second. The federal court had around $4,800 invested before the jury was even seated! And that doesn't include reimbursements for mileage, parking and hotels!

I understand the importance of juries in maintaining the American justice system. And, I genuinely believe they did all they could to make us comfortable and to reduce the strain. Yet I think most of the people called on that jury panel would say it was not a very positive experience. It's a shame, really. Oh, and a federal jury draws from a 30-county area, so some of these people had driven far or were having to stay in hotels. I guess the second morning there were 3 inches of snow on the ground over in Eastern Ohio, and some jurors had to make the second drive in through that!

The jury room offered an interesting cross-section of the population, as well it should. I found it interesting how open and friendly most people were. I wonder if that would be true in a federal jury in another part of the country? I had chats with several fellow jurors where I came away with a pretty good understanding of that person's life. In all honesty, I didn't open up to them nearly as much.

OK, I hope this has purged the jury selection experience and that tomorrow, I'll feel free to write something that is less of a complaint!

Oh, one bright note on another subject. My friend's son was accepted at the special high school for kids with learning disabilities, and he was scheduled to start there yesterday. I so hope that he is able to recover and thrive there! He and his mom remain in my prayers. I just want to see the Matthew that we saw by the end of 8th grade -- a boy who interacts with friends and make jokes and is able to enjoy life. I want to see him fulfill his potential and get a college education and head out into the world with justified optimism. He deserves it. In fact, every kid does!

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