Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jury Duty

Thirteen unenthusiastic partners in the dance of democracy line the perimeter of a cramped room on the third floor of the county courthouse. An attractive young woman dressed in tight jeans and boots with a long braid draped over one shoulder brakes into the strained silence, "so does anyone have plans for the summer?" At first no one responds then I say, "my son is getting married in September." A short exchange of questions ensues soon returning to awkward silence.

When the heavy oak door in the corner of the room opens, the court clerk rescues us from the discomfort of forced camaraderie. He ushers us to thirteen wooden chairs arranged on risers in the 100 year old courtroom calling out, "all rise for the jury." Our four day adventure is underway.

Reporting for jury duty is reminiscent of 21st century air travel. Arriving at 7:30 the morning of my service, I am met with security lines, conveyor belts full of coats and computers, body scanners, and numerous law enforcement personnel. Down the hall and around the corner from security, two lines wind out of the jury room where my summons is scanned and I am given a bar coded identification tag. The long, narrow jury assembly room could be mistaken for an airport waiting room with 200 black vinyl chairs lined up in rows and flat screen TV monitors on the walls flashing instructions. Looking around at the room full of strangers I can see no one is excited about being here.

By 9:00 a judge has welcomed us, we've watched a video extolling the value of jury service and we know where to find the restrooms. When the first call for a jury is announced and several names are read, I'm thinking I might dodge this group. Then I hear my name, "present," I say, gather my belongings and join the other unlucky citizens by the door. In a group of 36, what are my chances of making the final thirteen, 12 jurors and one alternate? Pretty good as it turns out. I was selected as juror number two.

After 24 tedious hours of arguments, evidence, and testimony, complicated by the need to translate into and out of Spanish, we find ourselves in the jury room again ready to make a decision that will change lives. It doesn't take long. The evidence is clear. We wonder why the defendant didn't settle out of court. Eleven of us vote to right a wrong and impose a penalty on an employer for willfully breaking the law.

Strangers again - we go back to our lives as project managers, liquor distributors, nannies, lab technicians, retired railroad workers, nurses, office managers, consultants, housewives, computer programmers, teacher's aides, bar bouncers, and artists. Jury duty - unpleasant and necessary.

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