Thursday, October 24, 2019

Performing My Civic Duty

The courthouse
Let me be clear about this -- I am not complaining about my recent jury service. After all, it consisted of three measly hours that included a 20 minute break that allowed me to take a walk and enjoy a gorgeous fall morning. And yet it did yield some blogworthy material.

First, there was the jury questionnaire. I committed a wee bit of perjury. Yes, I checked the box for "single" rather than "divorced."  I know, it's a weird thing to take a stance on, but I just can't see the relevance. And speaking of irrelevant questions, why do they want to know what organizations prospective jurors are members of or their hobbies?  Do I get assigned to a case involving a theater company or artist because those are my areas of interest?

After everyone unable to shoehorn themselves into an excused absence completed their questionnaires, Judge Charles Roberts came in to give a pep talk about what an important role jurors serve. After all, it's a constitutional right to have a jury trial, at least in criminal cases in which the defendant can be required to serve time.

Wherever there's a courthouse there's
a bail bondsman nearby. 
It was kind of rousing to think about what a great country America is with a constitution that protects its citizens against abuse, etc., etc., Then I remembered the President just this week called the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution "phony."  It doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling to know with 100% certainty that the President has not read the Constitution nor has his staff familiarized him with provisions that he skirts pretty much every day. But I don't want to get sidetracked.

We then watched a video with the gripping title "The Florida Juror" in which additional information was provided by Chief Justice Fred Lewis. I liked it when he said we were there to serve "your judicial system." It reminded me of the sense of pride and ownership I always felt when the Maestro welcomed the audience to a concert by "your Charlotte Symphony Orchestra." And it's true that the system doesn't work without people "volunteering" to serve as jurors. (I did notice, however, that the room seated 180 people and, while overflowing, clearly wouldn't have accommodated prospective jurors numbered 1 - 600 who were told to report. Obviously, there were a lot of exemptions being utilized.)

The portion about the use of electronic devices has clearly been updated in recent years. Jurors, of course, are prohibited from talking with anyone or reading about "their" trial.  In the olden days (pre-internet), the media prohibition just meant you couldn't read an article in the newspaper about the case. Now the jury instructions specify that you may not research the case or any of the issues raised on your computer or cell phone.  "We recognize this might be different than the way you are used to learning," the Deputy Clerk said. "But there's no assurance that what you read on the internet is accurate, and lawyers can only question or challenge witnesses about what is before the court." Totally correct -- and also totally unmonitorable.

Jurors can order lunch from 
the nearby Law & Order Café.
Happily, my stint as a juror was over after approximately 90 people were called for potential duty. We were told we would be mailed our $15 stipend (payable to those who didn't have employers who compensated them for the day).  There was another option, though.  We could donate the stipend to either Gulf Coast Voices for Children & Families or the Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center. What a fabulous idea!

I checked the box for my fee to go to SPARCC and headed out the door with a good feeling. Sure, it wasn't from making sure that justice was served in court that day, but I had contributed in a small way to helping the victim of a crime. I noticed a few other prospective jurors stopping on their way out to donate their fee as well. Perhaps there's hope after all.


  1. I think the reason they ask for your organization affiliations and interests is for the lawyers to make some judgments about you, based on what those things represent. there is a lot to be inferred from being on the board of a theatre vs. the member of a gun club vs. volunteering for literacy programs vs. serving on the guild of some born-again-christian ministry. when i recently did my 3 hours in new york, i got $40!


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