Tuesday, July 5

Jury Duty - A Reflection

A few months back I got summons for Grand Jury duty. You know, like on Law and Order; where they tell their case to the Grand Jury to see if they have enough evidence before inditing.

The term of jury service - 3 months. July, August and September.

First things things - the court house I had to go to doesn't have parking or validate. I've served on  jury here once before and I remembered paying for parking before. But then a friend reminded me to bring quarters. Good thing to, the parking lot was converted to one of those "get your ticket here" lots that only took change. I would have had to walk, in the rain; from another further lot if I only had my card on me.

The next thing - I have a hard time believing the people randomly selected to serve on the jury was an accurate cross section of my county. I know where I live is predominately white, as where the people called. I have a hard time believing we the area is that young. Unless they are also pulling from all of the college kids around. And there were far more women than men. And I will come back to this point.

Next let's talk about how we got to sit around extra long this morning in the jury room because so many people failed to show. The court officers were actually discussing calling people to see if they were showing.

We finally get in to the court room and there is a big laugh among the court employees about the judge that was listed to appear, because apparently he is "no longer with us". The judge that did come in seemed pretty cool.

We went through the whole swearing in of the jury, and get the long lecture about it being our civic duty to serve and how it is an inconvenience. Then he goes on about how an inconvenience isn't  hardship; and he's not going to let anyone off for just any old reason.

Next the judge tells us to be thankful that we don't live in the county south of us; as that grand jury meets every day of the week - Monday through Friday. In our county the grand jury only meets on Tuesday and Wednesday; but still for three months. He tells us they need 13 jurors on the panel at all times, but 23 will be sat so that people can be excused for medical and dental appointments, pre-planned vacations, meetings, etc. Honestly, this all sounds very doable.

But here's the thing; the courts system pays $50 a day when you serve and you're not being paid by your employer.

Really? $50 a day. The minimum wage in the state is $10/hour. It's an 8 hour day. And you need to py for your own parking.

My employer, like many; will pay me for 3 days of service.

And the states $50 a day doesn't come close to matching what I would bring in from work.


My juror number is 53. After about ten rounds of people going up; we were called in threes, but saw the judge alone it's my turn. Not even half of the jury is seated. Two "kids" (they didn't even look 18) were sent to "the back of the line". But people were being excused from service one after another. Of the people that were already seated the vast majority were women - over 50 or under 30. The men that went up; of all ages were being dismissed. Only two men I believe were sat by the time I left.

It's finally my turn to see the judge. He asks me if there is any reason I cannot serve. He put it that plainly and simply. And I told him the simple truth; I was the sole provider for a family of five and my employer would only pay me for three days of service and frankly the $50 a day the court paid would not be sufficient. And just like that I was dismissed.

I truly believe this is why many of the people before me were also excused. I overheard many conversations while waiting from people afraid they couldn't provide for their family if they were called. Or the small business owners who were afraid to loss business.

I would have loved to of served on the grand jury. I think it would have been a very unique and interesting experience.

Yet, here I am. Not serving because there are no laws about paying your employees while serving. Because really, let's think about this - how many people actually do get called and do end up sitting on a grand jury?

And to that affect, how can anyone expect to have their court case heard by a jury of their peers when their peers are the working middle class; who cannot live off $50 a day?

I didn't see how the jury pool looked in the end. But with those over 60 being excused and those that needed to work to provide for a family being excused and the young ones sent to "the back of the line"; in the half of the process I saw I find it hard to believe this is an accurate sampling of the population. And forget the randomness of the process when the system is rigged to have the working middle class excused.

And let me just add that I probably would have been excused if I told the judge I was the primary care provider for three children and that $50 a day would be insufficient to pay for day care.

And mind you, if I did not have a job they would pay me $50 a day anyhow.

This system is seriously flawed.

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