Jury Duty: The Short Version. Really.

shutterstock_94093495I Mean This When I Say: Sometimes Democracy Needs More Upraised Middle Fingers That Clean Up Nice.

I often like to argue that I am more of a patriot than most, because I am the first person to jump at the possibility that the entire system is broken, and needs to be rebuilt in a decentralized way, run by women and minorities, preferably.  The right combination of influences, friends, drugs, music, and intellectual journeys I made as a late teen / 20 something bred in me this notion that most systems are flawed by default, and to tear them down in favor of something else – sometime, anything else – is always preferable in the end.  As time went on, I started to see the folly in much of that thinking, and more pointedly, exposure to other ideas and systems of thought – filtered through this hypercritical bullshit punk rock perspective – only led to me to having a much more well rounded point of view by the time I graduated from college.

That being said, I have come to believe that most systems are still flawed, yes, but that by asking questions, and trying to understand these broken systems, you can interject into them the kind of meta-analysis that might cause others to think.  This does not mean that I have often been successful or right when I’ve had to navigate local government or bureaucracies.  At least I feel as if I’m not compromising my own principles when I behave that way, as artificial and arbitrary as my ever-evolving principles might be.

All of this is a long was of saying that I’m absolutely in support of attending and participating in Jury Duty when you get called.  I would only hope that there would be a skeptical ex-weirdo who can put on a shirt and tie on my own jury if, for whatever reason, I wound up in some sort of trial. That’s not to suggest that I’m the kind of guy who would end up in a trial on a regular basis, just that I would want someone to be “of my peers” if I were in their shoes, so it only stands to reason the opposite would be true.  I feel it is my responsibility to be the agent of question-asking and curious weirdos in public, and that applies to Jury Duty, too.

 

Flashback.  Portland.  2002.  

I was called for Jury Duty one other time in life, over 10 years ago.  What I remember most was a lot of waiting and reading, an eventually I was sent home, and I never heard from Multnomah County again.  I was single at the time, and my job paid for me to go, so why not participate in the world of law in a meaningful way?  And, so what if I wasn’t called for a case?  It would all happen again, and I was happy to be a cog in that wheel.  Eventually I would actually participate, the next time I was called, and that would be fine.

As the years went on, it became clear that not only was I not going to get called again, I just got sadder about how this vestige of democracy was within my reach, and yet so far away.  I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate, but I was just never called into action, and never given a chance to give my particular assets a chance to shine.  Another case of the super-hero who could have saved the day, save for the world’s inability to recognize the power he could wield, if they would only let him.  This seemed to be so symbolic of my relationship with so many things, and it just made me feel bad to think about what that might mean for how broken the system really might be.  Or legal fate is not through carefully reasoned measurements of truth, but given over to random chance.

 

49af8f8eb7c25f21cdb0bb12caf942a5Now, In Present Day Salem, OR.

My wife got a jury summons a while back, and I was immediately jealous, until I got my own summons a couple weeks later, in late November.  It made sense.  We moved to a new county, then got married, and our names were now in the system, anew.  We have heard, through the grapevine, that Marion County has a system that usually turns over every two years, without fail.  My wife went in for her chance to serve, and was not picked, and came home quickly.  It did not bode well for my own chances.

As instructed in my letter, I checked in for duty online, and as further instructed, returned to check on the website if I would be needed for the summons in the morning of the day I was supposed to attend.  I didn’t think much of anything, as I was kind of excited about going, and skimmed the site.  I didn’t see anything that overtly read “don’t come in,” so I took it as read that I was to do as instructed in the letter, and show up before 8 AM.

So, prepped with a lunch and fortified with a few cups of coffee, I arrived on time, filled out the paperwork, and was happy to go to the front desk only to find that, as part of the trial jury, since it was so close to the holiday, my services would not be needed.  “Unless you want to volunteer to be a part of the Grand Jury,” he said.

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I eagerly jumped at the chance to do it, having already gotten myself down to the courthouse dressed in respectable clothing before 8 AM.  (No easy feat, mind you.)  He explained that it was a two week commitment if I was selected, and I could be in the courtroom for up to six days during that period.  The more he explained, the more I got excited about it.  While never seen in the movies or on Perry Mason, a Grand Jury gets to decide if there’s even a reason for the case to go to trial, which is itself a very important function that is unglamorous and little known, on top of all of that.

While I won’t drag out the climax for too much longer, in less than two hours I was sent home, being thanked for my service in spite on not getting selected to do anything.  While I did see that it was absolutely random that I was not selected, I was disappointed to get to a courtroom finally only to be sent home because they were not going to need my help.  (The bailiff and Judge chose jurors from a fanned-out set of papers that represented all of us.)  Fortunately, the city of Salem provides you with a bus ticket good for the day that you are serving Jury Duty, so I was home so early that I didn’t even get a chance to want to snack on my lunch early, as I could have prepared myself an entire meal at home and still have time to spare, considering how early I was out.  It was such a whirlwind, I barely even noticed the inconvenience it might have been.

 

Some Quick Observations

Everyone I met at the courthouse was not only friendly and kind, but seemed a little desperate for levity and a smile.  It was a Monday morning, and it was close to Christmas, so I’m sure there was a little lightness in the air that was not there normally.  But whatever the case, I had positive interactions with everyone, and a smile really went a long way in terms of getting a nice laugh or exchange out of them.  On the other side of this, the people who had all been called for Grand Jury seemed like a huge group of sourpusses.  No one looked like they wanted to be there, and I could understand, in a way.  I have no idea what their personal lives are like, and I don’t know what they are leaving behind at home.  But no one looked happy to be there.

The process is pretty quick.  There is certainly some down time, but I’ve waited longer for instructors to show up for appointments, so I felt pretty good about those intervals.  The Judge was nice a friendly, and once he got started, the courtroom ran efficiently while I was there.  I was sort of shocked, but then again, they do this five days a week, every week, so they have it down.  Even the security check at the entrance of the building seemed far too simple and easy to get through to be that much of a problem or hassle.  As with a lot of public places like this, they ask you to turn off your phone, and remove your hats, which I thought was an interest request.  (Probably to avoid having hidden recording devices.

jury-dutyI did find it a bit weird that most of the people I was in Jury Duty with were women.  The men were outnumbered by a factor of three.  While not completely hard to explain – that’s just the way the random number thingy worked that day – I did find it odd.  There was one other guy who was in his 20s, but I was still the second youngest man in the room.

I should also add, while I’m at it: I’m surprised at how understanding The Judge is with regard to people who just don’t feel like doing it.  Now, I’m not here to be judgmental about the way other people spend their time.  I probably don’t have the greatest management of my own time.  But I barely believe in systems of any kind, and would rather see bullshit from the past be burned down than reinforced by bureaucracy at this late date, Twenty Fifteen.  But I was a little astounded at how bad the excuses could be for people to be let off the hook for serving.  I understand that missing even a day of work can be a hardship for a lot of people, and it is not my place to judge anyone who is in that situation.  It just seemed strange to hear excuses like, “I would be tired to try and fit it in,” and, “It’s hard to get here,” as legitimate excuses that the Judge will accept.  Yes, I’m tired early in the morning too, and now that you mention it, compared to my bathroom, this was very hard for me to get to.  Where’s my parade?

Regardless, I don’t believe anyone was really trying to take advantage of a gullible system, but again, they did not need all of us, and I guess the system is designed to include a padding that will account for lazy jurors.  They could easily afford let a few people go because they don’t “feel like it,” and still have plenty of people leftover.  I just want it on record that I did not try to pull out any kind of excuse, but instead, decided to throw my lot in with chance, and was randomly not picked.  So much for taking a shower and putting on shoes.

 

Conclusions

Having only devoted six hours total to the task of Jury Duty over the last 40 years, I can only say that I have yet to have an experience other than feeling like I wasted everyone’s time, since most of those six hours were spent waiting, filling out forms, and being told that I wasn’t needed (somehow being rejected three times in the two I’ve been called).  However, I’m probably being a little dramatic to think that this system must be broken in some way, only because I haven’t had a chance to be involved in a Murder 1 Trial.

It makes total sense that the people who want nothing to do with it are all sighing and making excuses, and the guy who wants to people involved can’t get a sideways look to save his life.  But, who am I to Judge?  This must be the system in place because it works, right?

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