About a month or so ago, I received a summons from the County Clerk for jury duty in the Civic Court at my county courthouse. I’d received summons twice in the past, but hadn’t ever had to actually go to the courthouse, so my first thought was Dum-de-dum-dum-DUM! “They’re going to get me this time!” There’s a questionaire on the summons that you have to fill out and mail back in, then on the day before you’re scheduled to serve, you call up after 6:00 PM and listen to a recording. On the front of the summons is a number and if your number is among those listed in the recording, then you must report to the courthouse the next morning–by 7:30 AM.
My scheduled date was Wednesday, October 8. I had nearly forgotten about the summons, but a week before I realized that I needed to let my boss know about it so made a copy, which I provided to my boss and ultimately the timekeeper, just in case. Then, the day before I figured that I’d better find out exactly how to get to the courthouse on public transportation. My county seat is smack dab in the middle of the county but also in the middle of nowhere and nearly impossible to get to via public transit. The county did start offering several bus routes via county-run public transit about 5 years ago or so (I have no idea how non-drivers got there before!), but the buses only run at certain times (not frequently, mind you) and only from two locations and take quite a while to get there. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to get there from where I live! So I went online and got bus schedules and the like … again, just in case.
So, Tuesday evening, I called the number on my summons just a little after 6:00 PM. Sure enough, my number was among those called and I trundled off to bed worrying that I wouldn’t get there before 7:30 AM the next morning. I was right to worry, because I overslept and missed the bus I should have caught at 5:50 am! I was able to get a ride to one of the subway stations where the bus to the Courthouse leaves from, except I just missed one and had to wait 30 minutes for the next one, so it was 7 AM before I was actually on my way to court. It was a 45 minute ride, but I whiled away the time listening to my portable radio via headphones (more about this later …) and reading my paper.
Arriving at the courthouse at 7:45 am, I was a little nervous about being late (I shouldn’t have been, people were still arriving as late as 8:30!), but when I went through the metal detector the guards asked what electronic device I had in my purse–good grief, they wouldn’t let me take my radio inside. I hadn’t even thought about that. They told me I had to leave it outside! Dang, I thought I was going to have to throw it away or something; however, I ended up wrapping it up in a plastic bag and stashing the bag in some bushes outside the courthouse. So finally I made it through the metal detector and up to the jury room.
After checking in and getting into the computer system, I joined the others already there who were watching a video which gave a general introduction of the jury process. The jury room is fairly large, but there were a good deal of people in there. After the video ended, a staff member of the Court came out and did some more explaining about the jury process before calling out names for prospective cases. I got number 14 (you go by the numbers on plastic cards) for a civil case, and by 9 am my group was being herded into a courtroom for the “voir dire” process–this is where the judge and attorneys interview and then the attorneys select the jurors. For civil cases, they only require six jurors, and … believe it or not, I was among the six selected! I actually sat on a jury! After the judge gave us some more instructions about the case, etc. (boy did I learn a lot about the justice system!), we were to move to another courtroom to hear the actual case. The judge did tell us that he thought it would be a fairly easy case, maybe over in a day (jury duty here is “one day or one case”), so we were buoyed somewhat by that thought before we tramped out of the courtroom.
The bailiff escorted us to the other courthouse, and as we exited the main courthouse, I shared with the others about my radio and told them I’d hidden it in the bushes. The bailiff, who was a very nice guy, told me to go get it, and I didn’t have to worry about my radio the rest of the day. What a relief, it was still there.
They had a little bus to take us between the courthouses, but it was a while in getting one, so everyone was waiting for the jury to begin. Fortunately, the judge was right about the case–it was rather cut and dried. It was a car accident, rear-ender, chain-reaction. Neither attorney was very good, imho – the rest of the jurors agreed with me on that one! – but at least their opening and closing statements were brief. We retired to come to a verdict about 11:15 am. We quickly concluded that the defendant was negligant, but it took us a while to agree on the amount of the verdict. We ended up giving the plaintiff medical bills, lost wages and a bit (less than asked for) for “pain and suffering,” which is actually called something else now, but I can’t remember the new term for it. So we went back in, gave our verdict and court was adjourned by noon! I was on a bus home by 12:20 PM (although it took me nearly 2 hours to get back…), thus rendering my civic duties for the next three years … or so they told me.