Saturday, February 27, 2016

a weenie and a whiner

I got called up for jury duty this month. Around Christmas the "prospective juror survey" came in the mail and I filled it out, hoping they had plenty of white middle-aged women in the pool so they wouldn't require my assistance. No dice. The "official summons letter" arrived two weeks ago advising me to show up on Feb. 24-March 4. Clear my calendar, make arrangements with my employer, sort out child care. Mr. D was jealous, he's always wanted to be called up, he thinks it would be interesting. And while I agree that juries are a great method to insuring fair trials, I have no current desire to serve.

I re-read the letter from the judge and noted where you could write a letter to get excused for "hardship or medical reasons." No harm, no foul, so I decided to go for it. I wrote to the judge explaining that as a teacher I have to plan every day I'm absent. Teaching isn't the kind of gig where I can say to my staff, Nigel, hold my calls and reschedule everybody for the next week or so. I'm responsible for grading almost 100 papers a week. I advise students in a club and write letters of recommendation and serve on a committee and provide intervention for readers and adjust each lesson plan based on each previous day's achievements (or failures). Prepping for English 12 and AP Language & Composition isn't like telling a sub to referee a few rounds of dodge ball (no offense, phy ed folks, but we all know some courses require more curriculum development than others). As a juror I'd have to serve all day and spend all evening on my day job, that seemed like a hardship to me.

Plus, we have a shortage of substitute teachers. There are some great subs, but the demand is also great, which guarantees an unqualified person would be probably end up in Room 212, and while serving as a juror is a marvelously important civic duty, so is my role as a public educator. I didn't mention in my letter that I'm also a mom of 3 and run a household, though that would make jury duty even tougher under the circumstances.

Friends told me how you usually only have to show up the first day, it's not that big of a deal, you just call in each day and find out if you serve. A few people advised me to just act obnoxious--tell the judge that I'm Wiccan/Vegan/Muslim/Hindu/Baptist/VooDoo/Decaf or that I'm pro-death penalty in all circumstances.
 

Tempting though it was to pull a Liz Lemon, I can't lie and I'm pretty rotten at it, too, though it was tempting. Instead I started sketching out long-range sub plans for a week and a half. Indeed, I am a weenie and a whiner. But as a weenie and whiner resigned to participating reluctantly grudgingly actively in the Founding Fathers' vision of a democratic government (though I'm fairly certain Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton were the kind of guys who had plenty of staff on hand to run their affairs smoothly and wives to manage the daily tasks of household duties and child-rearing should they be called to serve as jurors when they wrote that amendment), I held out little hope for a reprieve.

I imagine I felt a little like the person about to go on trial.

Praying, persevering and planning for contingencies I carried on with a stiff upper lip. I did close my letter to the judge assuring him of my enthusiastic participation as a juror anytime over summer break, so maybe, maybe he'd excuse me out of kindness and recognizing that I was indeed a decent citizen.

Last Wednesday Mr. G took a phone message from the judge's secretary--I was excused! It was such a weight off my back, sweet freedom!

This week the trial started and it's headlining our local newspaper. It turns out I was summoned for a murder trial (exciting!) and the case got under way in a packed-out courthouse. I'm relieved I took a bye this round, this case will run all of another week if what I've read is any indication. Weird to imagine I might have watched everything unfold firsthand and been part of the decision, but I have no regrets, only gratitude toward a sympathetic judge who let me sit this one out.

Spill it, reader. Have you ever served as a juror? Was it interesting or horrible?

23 comments:

  1. I was one of the lucky ones who phoned in each day for a week and was told I wasn't needed. One day I forgot to call on time and was convinced I would be in contempt of court or something! At the end, the message thanked me and said my jury obligation was fulfilled for a number of years (can't remember exactly). I agree that it would be interesting, but also a lot of aggravation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have had to show up for the jury pool, but never sat on a jury. The main feeling I had from my experience was smugness at having taken the bus for $2.00, instead of paying $40 for parking (more than the measly jury fee they pay the jurors).

    You can be pretty sure that they will call you for jury duty in the summer....

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have served on two juries. It was very interesting. I'm glad I experienced it, even though it is a pain to rearrange your life. You can be sure you'll get called in the summer! Both times I had deferred my first summons (had vacations scheduled) so of course I got called when I said I was available.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had two experiences like yours. The first time I had a brand new baby, who got me off (thank you, Beth). The second time I asked my doctor to get me excused as handicap parking is across the street and the jury rooms are on at least the second floor, after you've climbed all those marble stairs to a mid 19th century court house. As my doctor handed back the form she said she has requested they take me off the juror rolls. Age has it's small benefits.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I haven't been called. I always wonder if my hearing impairment would get me excused - and then I feel guilty for thinking that way. A coworker had jury duty for almost a week. We don't get subs in virtual school, but she had a pile and a half of grading and phone calls when she finally made it back to her desk.

    ReplyDelete
  6. When I was 40 I had never been summoned and volunteered to be on mock juries at Cornell Law School. I sat on 6 full days in 3 weeks. Although they are intended, as an exercise, to be interesting for all, and brisk (9-4 with lunch for the trail plus post-game recap with the future Grishams) it was boring as hell after the first 3-4. Then, OF COURSE the county called me up for the first time a month later, Murphy's law! Me and my paperback showed up…and were excused as unneeded. I am so glad I learned so much about all this, but, you know, you don't want to do too many of them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. They don't ever pick me when I do get called because I used to do juvenile probation. Which is fine, as I spent plenty of time in court beck them anyway. Glad you found an out!

    ReplyDelete
  8. No, I've never even been called, if you can believe that.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yikes, a murder trial, that could have gruesome evidence to see and harsh testimony to hear. Happy to hear you didn't have to serve.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I was called when I was a grad student in Michigan. Everyone said I'd get excused --that they wouldn't want someone who was in grad school. But I was seated on the jury. It was a drugs trial, and it stressed me out so much (rich UM student getting a really lenient sentence for giving evidence against a poor black kid, made me so angry) that I got a migraine (first and only) and had to call in sick. They excused me.

    Then, of course, I got called again a year later, and ended up on a really interesting murder trial. This guy had stabbed his gf's mother 17 times, and his gf many times as well. The gf somehow had survived. The photos of the kitchen where it happened --wow! It was quite interesting. Plenty of evidence for a conviction.

    I just filled out a survey for here in IL, and it's the second time I've been called since I've lived here. Last time I wasn't seated. I'm hoping if they call me it'll be during the summer.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can't believe you got out of it, but I'm glad you did for all the reasons you stated. It must be odd, though, to know you could be sitting in that jury box during that very public trial.

    I was called when I was all of 18 years old. The city I grew up in was not that large, and my dad was a well-known policeman. I was not accepted as a juror for one trial because of those two reasons. For the second one, the attorney, after telling me he knew my dad, asked, "You could be on a jury with people three times your age. Could you give your honest opinion if you disagreed with them?" I replied, "You know my dad. I'm a lot like him." I was on that jury. :) It was very interesting to be on one. I'm glad it happened when I was home from college break.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm SO GLAD you didn't have to serve--but, and this might be awful, wouldn't a murder case be vastly more interesting than some of the options? And wouldn't it spark the writer in you to start plotting out a new book? Heh.

    A few years ago, I was summoned, and I had to call in every day, but I never had to show up. WHEW.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have been summoned several times over the years, even got as far as the jury box, but that case settled. Then a few years ago I was summoned--and chosen!--on a federal trial. I had to travel 260 miles to Sacramento (the nearest federal court), where I was put up in a hotel, for four weeks (I drove home each weekend--there was a stipend for gas and food.) It was a Medicare fraud case against three doctors--very interesting, actually, although it was not that difficult to decide against them. I was unemployed at that time so I didn't have to miss work. It was inconvenient to travel so much, but I'm glad I did it. Prior to that, I'd never realized what a "federal case" was and why it's different than jury duty at your county courthouse. I understand why people try to get out of serving, but I recommend it!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow! I'm amazed he let you go! Although I do agree.
    I was called once and always wanted to sit - I wasn't working outside then. Off I went. I sat most of the day and then was called upstairs to what would have been an interesting trial: a kitchen worker was walking home on a busy road and hit by a car - hit and run....but THEN he was hit again, and killed BY A DOCTOR. His family in Honduras was suing for the wages he would have sent them over his lifetime.
    I was in the room for questions but never asked anything and then dismissed. By virtue of the fact that I had heard the details of the case, I had served. Disappointing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've been called, but have never served. That whole bit about being married to a cop always gets me out of it. What? Me not be fair?

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've been called twice and ended up on juries twice. Both for car accidents. The first was a "have a wreck? get a check!" deal and I was not happy with how the verdict went but I finally gave in because I wanted it to be over. The second was also an accident, but was a fascinating display of why one should never, never represent oneself, especially when one has little grasp over the English language and has only watch Law and Order a couple of times as training. It was painful, but thankfully short because the person who filed the suit and represented himself was ridiculous and there was no doubt the judgement would go against him. My neighbor, despite being the mother of a young son, a legal secretary and having a passing acquaintance with the parents of one of the victims, was chosen to sit on the jury of a child molestation trial of a coach/teacher at a local Christian school. She said it was one of the worst experiences of her life. My daughter attended that school for one year, but it was before that particular teacher was employed there, but a couple of the victims were people I knew because a good number of people from our church sent their kids to that school. I've also had to get 2 of my 4 college students out of jury duty; one was easy since he was out of state, but the one who was attending summer school (not 12 hours so not considered full time, although you miss one day, you've missed a week in summer) took an enormous amount of bureaucratic wrangling to get out of it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I was called up for local court jury duty a few years ago and out of the six-week period of my service, I had to show up three times (plus the orientation) and I was never chosen to be on the actual jury.

    But this year, I was chosen to be in the pool for the federal grand jury. I have no legitimate way to get out of it and get this--my term is for the ENTIRE YEAR, starting March 1. I don't have to appear every day, but I am "on call" for the entire year. If I want to take a vacation, I have to apply to the court to get it approved. I can't believe they can do this to me for an entire year. My neighbor is in the same jury pool and he travels for work at least once a month and has already had to submit approval requests for travel. I have no idea how long a typical grand jury hearing lasts. Hopefully, shorter than an actual trial.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I was called for jury duty right after Grace was born. She was mere weeks old, we were moving into a new house, my dad just died, the kids were about to start school. I was a mess. I had to go in on day one as they were selecting a jury but I wasn't selected. WHEW!!!! I was VERY relieved. Just getting someone to take care of all my kids for that morning was nuts.

    So glad you were able to get out of it. Though a murder trial is very exciting I would not want to be responsible for deciding whether someone was innocent or guilty. Pressure!!!!! Plus, it would have been SO stressful for you to be gone from school for that long. So glad you were excused!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Wow! I'm glad the judge did the right thing and excused you.
    I was called up for jury duty twice here in WA -- both times during the five years we were living in Texas (we kept our Washington State citizenship, voting, etc. for the years we were away). I was worried the first time, called and explained the situation and was let off the hook. The second time I simply wrote that I was glad they were paying mileage and if they still wanted me to come...
    About 9 years ago, my husband had to call in daily for 4 days before being excused. It was nice that they had you call in the night before (he wasn't in the first grouping of perspective jurors) so he was able to go to work. And of course, it was easier for him to not go to work than for me since I was the stay-at-home parent.
    About a year ago, our then-22-year-old son had to report for jury duty, but he was dismissed the first day. Not sure why, and it was a disappointment because he was unemployed and every little stipend would have helped!

    ReplyDelete
  20. PS: You are neither a weenie nor a whiner! :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Oh this sounds like fodder for a new story ;D you'll have to give us all a summary of your experiences...in awe...bored...captivated...yawnfest...?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Great post! Glad to connect again. I've missed your wit and stories!
    No, I haven't served though I think it would be interesting. The decision part is what I'd dread-not my own, but the thought of getting a group of people to agree! It gives me a tic in the eye just to imagine!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I was not an ideal candidate either time I've been called. Excused the first time because I drank alcohol (lived in Salt Lake City at the time and it was DUI case.) I was buried in the middle after the initial questioning in the second one. Last question the DA asked the crowd and chose me. Big mistake. She asked how I dealt with my kids when they fought. Of course, I responded. "Oh, my kids never fought." The judge declared that she was awake up there. And the then after much hoopla it was determined that I was out of the queue. Not the first time I've been out of the queue. Home by noon.

    ReplyDelete

Spill it, reader.