What It Was Like to Have Jury Duty (Kind Of)

Monday, June 5, 2017

I've always wanted to be summoned for jury duty. I've been of legal age for nearly 15 years, but somehow, I've never been called. Much to her dismay, my mom has had jury duty three times since then; I'd happily have taken them for her, if that were allowed! I waited not-so-patiently for my own time to come.

Alas, that time came at the end of April, when I received a sopping-wet jury duty summons from Cuyahoga County (thanks, USPS) telling me it was my turn to report for duty starting Monday, May15th. I was ecstatic! The only problem? I was supposed to be in New York City that week for work.

I ended up canceling my work trip in order to fulfill my jury duty requirements because, although I could've put it off, I was afraid of being re-summoned closer to my wedding or my December work conference, both of which would've made for terrible timing. Aside from the NYC trip, for which I'd not yet booked flights, mid-May was actually a perfectly fine time for me to have jury duty - so I went.

Here's the deal in Cuyahoga County: You show up for jury duty at your assigned date & time (8am), & you wait in a big room. For a long time. They say it's "a minimum of five days, maybe more maybe less," which is, of course, not how the word "minimum" works. What they mean is that you show up every day & wait in that room for five days or until you're named to a trial, whichever comes first. If you end up being dismissed from the case, your jury duty service ends there - but if you don't get called, you keep going back to that room, day after day, until your five days are up.

On day three, I was called up with a group of about 20 people that also included two of the men I'd been sitting with for the past three days - a 25-year-old student & janitor named Marzel & a fortysomething Greek economics professor named Bill. When we gathered around the bailiff, she told us we'd been assigned to a criminal case that was "not expected to take long at all," which was a relief - no weeks-long trial for us! We loaded into the elevator to head up to court for the voir dire (jury selection) process.

...& then we were called out of the elevator. "Umm, they might not need you after all," the bailiff told us. "Have a seat & wait until we call you again."

So we waited. And waited. And kept waiting. At one point, they held us back for lunch, saying we might be needed. And finally, they called us back up: "Thank you for your service," the bailiff told us, & she began passing out certificates of completion for our time as prospective jurors.

For me, the coolest thing about jury duty - whether you end up on a jury or not - is looking around that room full of 350 people of every ages & color & class & background, all there for the same reason. I spent my days sitting at a table full of some of the most interesting people I've ever met, all completely different. In addition to Bill & Marzel, there was Sue, a grandmother & CFO of a manufacturing company; Cheryl, a chatty mother & substitute teacher studying to renew her full-time teaching license; Owen, a jeweler who tried to get me to come see him for a "bling upgrade"; Myron, a health care consultant who's met the last three sitting presidents; & a girl whose name I never caught, a sophomore economics major whose internal organs are on the wrong side of her body! We spent day after day just sitting around, chatting, talking life & politics & pop culture & what the hell ever. By the time I left them, I felt weirdly close to them, disappointed that our time together had come to an end.

I've got to be honest: I was also disappointed not to end up on a trial, or even in voir dire. I'd been looking forward to this for so freaking long, & I desperately hoped to be see the legal process in action. I know no one wants to end up on jury duty (except me, I guess), but I think it's so important that we do it, annoying & life-interrupting though it may be.

Other people try to throw the voir dire process, try to make themselves seem like unappealing jurors so they get dismissed from the case. But me? I want to do it. If we claim to believe in justice, how can we shirk our responsibility to be a part of the process of justice?

Now, I'm off the hook for jury duty for the next two years. But when my time comes again, you'd better believe I'm going in with my fingers crossed & my all my hours of Law & Order-watching at the ready. Someday I'll get to be a juror!

Tell me: Have you ever had jury duty? What was it like?

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