As a self-employed person, I’ve bristled whenever I’ve received a jury duty notice. I would like to perform my civic duty, but the financial ramifications prevent me from getting enthusiastic about it. Two weeks with no billables is simply not affordable. A lengthy trial would bankrupt me. So for years, I submitted my excuses, and they were accepted.
When I received a summons in November of 2002, however, I had a different response. I was coming out of some extremely lucrative consulting months, and I knew that if I could ever manage the financial constraints of jury duty, this was the time. So I showed up on that designated Monday morning.
Within a few hours, I was called into a courtroom. Along with 12 other “auditioners,” I was placed in the almighty wooden box, and I listened to the judge’s brief description of the case: a young man had made an extremely threatening telephone call and so he was being prosecuted.
The prosecuting attorney sat at her place, tightly dressed in a power suit. At the other table, the defendant sat alone. He wore dark cargo pants, and his white shirt -- partially unbuttoned -- was in desperate need of an iron. As the judge explained, the young man who had made the phone call had been offered a defense attorney but: he had chosen to represent himself.
My eyes grew wide as these details were revealed. After years of avoiding jury duty, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to participate in this trial. It would provide some fascinating insights into human nature, and as a creative writer, I crave any opportunity to study character.
The next step in the process began with the judge assigning numbers. Among the prospective jurors, I was “number eleven.” The judge then described basic aspects of the legal system and followed that with general questions that would elicit the raising of hands from “we, the would-be jury.” He also directed specific questions to individuals in the box.
It had been a while since I had engaged in something this close to a classroom experience, and I took great pride when I answered a question correctly. I also paid close attention to my fellow auditioners… their stories, their perspectives, and their answers to the judge’s questions.
I was fully engaged.
This initial process went on for well over an hour. Then, we were given a break.
After ten or fifteen minutes, we were called back into the courtroom. The other prospective jurors and I returned to our assigned seats. The prosecutor and the self-representing defendant returned to their opposing posts. And once the room had settled, the judge let us know that, per the system, each side had the right to dismiss any prospective juror without an explanation. The judge also stated that if anyone were dismissed, they should not take it personally.
He then turned his head to make eye contact with the prosecutor.
“Is there any juror you would like to dismiss at this time?” he asked.
“Number eleven,” she said.
“Yeah,” the self-representing defendant echoed. “Number eleven.”
I left the courtroom in disbelief. After all the years of wanting to get out of jury duty, I had changed my tune. Not only had I accepted the summons, I couldn’t wait to get started. But… it was not to be.
It took me a day or two to realize what probably happened. But I think I know what I did in that jury box. It’s about my face. And actually, it’s a bit remarkable that I figured this out. After all, if you combine me with all the people with whom I’ve had contact, I’m the one who’s seen my face in action the least. Still, though, I think I know what happened. Through my facial expressions, I indicated that I was thinking. Constantly. And through the nods I inadvertently shared while others expressed their experiences, I indicated that I had feelings and opinions.
It’s too bad the prosecutor and her opponent chose to interpret my expressiveness as they did. Because, yes, I do have feelings and opinions. But I also am capable of being unbiased.
I’ll never know how I might have viewed that case. I never got a chance to hear the facts.
And, since that November eight years ago, I’ve never received another jury summons.
I don’t believe one can get dismissed from service by “trying,” so I’m not recommending anything here.
Just sharing what happened.
Just sharing my unbiased opinion of what happened.