This was my week for jury duty – again. I’ve been called up for jury duty maybe five or six times in my life. Only two times have I actually had to go to the courtroom. When you’re called up in my county, your given a juror number with a phone number and a time to call (these days there’s also a web page you can check). You call at the time listed to see if you need to come down. Most of the time, I’ve been told, “not today sir.” After a week of daily checking, I am done so I’ve not really found jury duty to be all that burdensome – except for the stress that I might have to actually serve.
Well, this week was a bit different. I warned my boss I was on-call for duty and dutifully checked the website. I didn’t have to go in on Monday or Tuesday but on Tuesday night I got the message to report Wednesday morning. Each state and jurisdiction has slightly different rules and procedures – in my county getting called to come in means that a judge has called for a jury panel of about 100 people to select 12 good citizens to sit in on the jury and decide the fate of the accused or settle a civil matter.
All the way down to the court-house, I went over all the excuses I could think of for not serving. I do believe in doing my civic duty and don’t mind serving but I wish there was a better way of scheduling when I had to do it. I get the point of it being random to ensure that juries don’t get stacked or artificially created. Still, it’s inconvenient. My work is getting into the busy season, my grand-daughter was visiting and they wanted me at the court at 8:30 am. AM
Do you know any software engineer that can be anywhere at 8:30 am? I normally get to work around 9:15 am and am known in the office as a “morning” person but 8:30 to be dressed and ready to be seen in public is a stretch. Dudes… can we talk about this?
I had visions of getting put on a three-week trial and after a hard day listening to testimony (and restraining my body’s urge to strangle the attorneys) of going home and logging into the office to do a little work. So, while driving I spent a few brain cells on thinking up excuses for not serving that still sounded like I wanted to serve but just not today.
Turns out the morning wasn’t a total loss. After I got through the security line a voice from the past called out, “Andrew, long time no see.” It was a co-worker from a previous job. He’d been called up the week before and was sitting on a jury. After I checked in and getting my panel assignment, I went to the jury room where my friend was sitting waiting to be called into his courtroom.
We had a nice little chat about old times and where we landed after we’d left “that” company. He had his laptop out and was logged into his office to “catch up on some work,” – confirming my fears that jury duty won’t entirely get me out of work and I’d end up doing double duty – jury and work. Then he got called to his court and wandered off to conduct the business of justice.
So I sat back and continued my thoughts on how to get out of this so I wouldn’t suffer the fate of my friend – jury by day, software engineer by night.
Okay, yes, technically, when you’re on jury duty you don’t have to go to work and your boss, by law, can’t punish you for doing jury duty and not working – but, well you see, it goes like this: Sure I can say, I can’t work but they just save it up telling me I can do it when I get back, but the project dead-lines won’t get changed and after a while you’ll get little calls and notes with something like, “Andrew, nobody here knows how you fixed the server last time. Could you login tonight for just a couple of minutes and take care of it? Thanks – I owe you one.”
The few minutes will take a couple of hours and in three months I’ll be at a project postmortem meeting saying for the five thousandth time, “I didn’t meet the deadline because I was on jury duty for three weeks.” And I’ll get the usual rejoinder, “couldn’t you have gotten out of that?”
There is this thing in our society that is set on everyone getting out of jury duty rather than just doing it. I might be old-fashioned but I believe that, despite the inconvenience, it really is our duty to do our best to serve – after all our justice system relies on jurors and we once fought a war for the right to have a jury of our peers (when you pay for something in blood, you need to remember its cost). Still most people today consider it an unwanted burden. My boss never asked directly if I could get out of it but did a lot of, “well let me know what happens because we’ll have to figure out how to get the project done by November.”
I get called for jury duty once or twice a decade so it’s not that bad. I’ve never had to sit through a trail and only have been questioned for a jury twice – both times they politely said, “We like to thank and excuse Andrew,” and sent me home for another five years. I am still trying to figure out what I said to get sent home – feeling good because I didn’t have to stay, but also feeling bad at being rejected (really, I’d be a good juror).
All of these thoughts were going through my head when I realized it was getting close to 10:30 and we hadn’t been called to the courtroom to start the long boring process of jury selection. Then, just as I was thinking of faking a heart attack, flu, or toothache – the announcement was made that the parties in the case had just settled and the whole jury panel could go home and we won’t be called for at least a year.
Well, there, I served the cause of justice by just being there in the jury room. What’s more, I can get my project done on time and still have my evenings free for writing blog posts about being on jury duty.
Till next week,
Yes I have been in the same situation, as a programmer, with my own contract, so there was no pay. Fortunately I only had to go one day. New York State used to have more reasonable rules regarding excuses but that has changed.
I did serve on jury duty for a criminal case. I felt a bit nervous at the prospect that this person could be sent to prison and I would have a part in that. The responsibility did weigh on me. I found that most of the jurors serving with me took it seriously. The defendant was found guilty and sent to prison. I fulfilled my responsibility, did the right thing but I didn’t like the way I felt. Would I do it again if chosen? Yes and I’d probably feel the same way. It’s a responsibility.
I’ve always had the same fear. Still, sometimes I think I should at least serve on one jury in my life. So far I’ve not made it past the questioning.
We had a movie to watch when I went. It was summer, so many judges were away on vacation, so most of us were sent home.
They didn’t tell us the first day, but they’ve installed wifi in the jury room along with a set of desks with electrical outlets. Right at the bottom of the information sheet I got when I checked in was the wifi password. A friend of mine, who works at the court, told me that most (like 60 – 70%) of people called are sent home the first day and very few actually sit on a jury. He said a large number of cases get settled just before jury selection starts – often litigants can get a better deal without the jury. Juries are known to use their own brains and not do what the lawyers want.
You might say Milton was right, “they also serve who only stand and wait”
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I had a terrible association with being forced to sit in that large auditorium all day in case I was needed. There were armed guards walking around the room and nothing whatever to do except for writing. I did get a good story out of the experience, though, and was never called.
At our court, the armed guards stay in the lobby downstairs and they kindly provided jigsaw puzzles to occupy our time. Maybe you could get transferred to our court next time.