It’s my week to be on standby, but I’ve been given the word that I’m not required to check in tomorrow. Yeah!!
I don’t envy the folks who have to try to get people to show up for jury duty. It’s a civic duty, a responsibility of being a good citizen, necessary for our judicial system to work, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I agree. But the brutal reality is that for the potential juror it really is a disruptive and often frustrating experience. It can cost you lost wages, extra expenses for childcare or transportation, and the compensation you get in return is a token at best.
Many jurisdictions try many different schemes to get people to show up for jury duty and make it as fair as possible while also making it as (relatively) painless as possible. The Los Angeles County system these days isn’t bad as they go.
You’re “on call” for a week, but you’ll only have to potentially go in for one day of that week. You call in or go online every evening to see if you’ve been picked to show up the next day. If you make it through the week without being called in, you’re done for the next year.
If you do get called in, it’s for one day only – if you’re not picked for a trial or put on a jury. I’ve been a couple of times where that’s happened and it might just be one of the most boring experiences on the face of the planet. I’ll bring a book, and these days with the music, books, podcasts, movies, and television shows on my phone, it could be worse. But it’s not terribly comfortable, you’re locked in at their whim as to when you and where you can go, you pay an arm and a leg for parking, and you have to put up with all of the security theatre to get in and out.
Think of a long day of high school detention being held in the worst airport terminal you’ve ever been in, stuck with a couple hundred people who are just as bored, uncomfortable, and pissed off as you are, and you’re probably all losing a day of pay or worse.
Maybe you get picked for an actual jury pool. (I’ve had this happen once.) Then you get to go off to another incredibly boring room and sit until all of the players (judge, lawyers, plaintiff, defendant) are ready. You start to get lectured on what the rules are, what’s going to happen, what the case is about, and so on. In my case, by the time all of that was done, it was time to break for lunch. Then, after lunch when we’re all told to be back promptly at 12:30, a couple of our fellow potential jurors blew off the deadline and mozied in more like 13:00-ish.
The rest of us cooled our heels in a hallway for that half-hour with nowhere to sit. They can’t start, they can’t move on, they can’t talk to us, no one can do anything until EVERYONE is present. I don’t know if they fined, jailed, or waterboarded those who were late and kept us all waiting, but I can hope.
Now we got down to business! We still didn’t know what the case was about, just whether it’s civil or criminal. We all get to fill out a long questionnaire so they can see which of us have something in our life that would disqualify us for one lawyer or the other. It’s a civil case for a landlord-tenant dispute and you own an apartment? Gone! Someone’s suing over a POS lemon they got from a car dealer and you work selling cars? History! A criminal case for drunk driving and you’ve had someone in your family killed or injured by a drunk driver? No thanks!
And so on.
Once they have all of the questionnaires they start tossing folks “for cause.” Then they start bringing us up one by one and start asking questions. Some get dismissed, the lawyers each have a few “picks” (I’m sure there’s a legal term for it) where they can toss you without giving any justification or reason, and some get sent over to the other side of the room to wait.
I assume that once they get 12 or 14 or 18 or whatever they need over on the other side of the room, they’re done, the rest of us get dismissed to go back to the jury pool room and be bored again and wait some more, and they get on with their trial. I’ve heard tales of that part taking a day, a couple of days, a week, but it’s pretty rare to end up lasting months and months like the OJ Simpson trial did. But it could.
In my case, after they had four or five jurors picked, they took a break and the lawyers went and huddled up with the judge. They came back and announced they had reached a settlement, and we were ALL sent back to the boring jury pool room. (I figured that one of the lawyers or the other was giving the jury pool the hairy eyeball, didn’t like their odds, and hit the eject button.) We waited there another hour, there were no more trials pending for the day, and we were all released, clutching the magic paper that said we had done our jury duty and didn’t have to do it for another year!
For now, all that fun’s on hold and I’ll be at the office tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night I’ll call again and see if Tuesday’s my special day. I will admit, when you’re calling, going through the check-in over the phone, and finally punching that last button and waiting to see the result, it’s a bit dramatic. It’s not Russian roulette, but I definitely noted some anxiety. The need a drumroll or something to go along with it.
Four more days to go.