Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Jury Duty


I lived my entire life up to the age of 49 without ever being called for jury duty. I've longed for it, and I got all excited last summer when I got a notice that said I might be needed to serve. But when I called on the date, as instructed, I found out I wasn't needed, so I didn't get to take the day off work (damn). Of course, this year, when I'm no longer at a job that will pay me for the day off, I finally got called.

A friend assured me that highly educated people never get selected, so I with my masters degree could rest easy. I'd always wanted to serve on a jury, so I felt a little disappointed when she told me that, but by July 27th, the day I was to report, I'd changed my attitude. By then I felt ambivalent because I was in daily abdominal pain and wanted to keep my doctor appointment later that week.

I and a couple of hundred people reported for jury duty at Chicago's Daley Center at 8:30 a.m. on the 27th. We sat in a large room with plenty of seats and minimal air conditioning. We watched a video that explained that we'd go through some questioning and, if selected, serve on a jury that would require us to punctually report to the court every day until the trial ended. They had given everyone a slip of paper with a number on it and called us in groups, as in, "Would everyone in group 11 please line up at the front desk in two rows?" They didn't call these groups in numerical order. Many of us sat for an hour and a half before our number was called.

When my group got called, we were led to another floor where we waited for another half hour to enter the courtroom. By then it was about 10:30. Thirty-six of us went in, with 12 of us called to occupy the jury seats. While the other 24 watched, we 12 were questioned by the attorney for the plaintiff and then the one for the defendant (later the groups of 12 switched so others could answer questions).

Sometimes the questions were directed to all of us, such as "Please raise your hand if you have ever had any medical training." But most of them were directed to each person individually. We were asked about our education (there were several masters degrees in my group), our families, our past experiences serving on juries, our hobbies and if any of us had ever received a diagnosis of sterility (being unable to have children). We were asked about our family histories with cancer and if we had siblings with children. Several times the attorney asked this question: "And was there anything about that experience that would make you unable to serve impartially on this jury?" That was what everything came down to. If someone said they had a family member who had suffered from lymphoma or if they said they were personally unable to have children, the attorney zeroed in and questioned them until he determined if they could serve impartially or not. That was the key.

I was asked about my blogging and what I did for a living and about my family's history of cancer. The attorneys didn't ask me very many questions, which I assumed meant they weren't interested in me as a juror. I turned out to be correct: when they finally called the twelve names of the selected jurors, mine wasn't one of them. But they did choose one of the masters degree holders, a school teacher, so I guess being highly educated doesn't always rule you out. The jury also had three Black people and three Latinos, which I thought was good, even though it looked like the plaintiff and defendents were all white.

At the end, those of us who weren't chosen filed back to the large room and lined up to collect our checks for US$25. I was surprised that the court proceeedings had gone straight through the lunch hour. It was 2:30 by the time we were able to leave, and several people said they were starving. Apparently, if we'd been called into a court room earlier, we might have had to sit back down and wait to see if we fit for another jury, but by 2:30 they just let us go. I left the building regretting that my jury experience hadn't happened last summer. It would have been lovely to have a day off work that left my whole afternoon free.

There were, of course, many people there that morning who were dreading the possibility of getting picked. I understand why people would feel that way who work for an hourly wage. If hourly workers don't show up for a shift, they don't get paid. But if you have a salaried job, what's the problem with taking a few days off to serve? I don't understand people who report for jury duty absolutely dreading the possibility of being picked. How could any salaried job be more important than the justice system? It can't.

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