The media attention surrounding Oprah Winfrey’s presence on a Chicago murder trial jury got me to thinking. I know of plenty of near-misses by celebs on juries, and this is one of the few I know of where they actually stayed. Of course, lots of folks think it’s kind of odd, and maybe bad, and not (for once) because anyone thinks celebrities’ time is more important than the “common man’s.”
As we saw in Oprah’s case, celebrities can draw a lot of attention away from the trial at hand (something the family of Walter Holley, the man whose murder was being prosecuted, probably didn’t appreciate). Oprah reported at one point, I believe, that she had to tell her fellow jurors that deliberations probably wasn’t the best time for autographs. There’s the matter of attention (though by all accounts Oprah took her duty very seriously), and the concern that the other jurors would think less for themselves, and would be more inclined to go with the celebrity, ESPECIALLY one who’s known for her views and ability at talk, like, say, a talk show host.
On the other hand, of course, jury duty IS a civic requirement, and we certainly don’t want to make too many exceptions for certain kinds of people - that’s what lawyers are for. And Oprah, due to her regular job and status, is definitely an unusual case. But what sort of harm, if any, IS there in letting an A-list, or even a B-list, celeb on a jury? How much do you think it affects the final outcome? Do you think they convicted in the trial Oprah served on because of her? To what extent? Did the defense (or the prosecution, for that matter, despite the fact that they won) screw up in not excusing her?