by Janis Patterson
I was called to jury duty a couple of days ago.
In a word, ick.
First, I had to clear the day of all appointments and deadlines, which meant working much of the weekend just so I didn’t fall behind in my writing schedule. Then I had to get up at an incredibly early hour and fight the gargantuan snarl that is rush hour traffic in an expedition to downtown. (To think some people do it every day – unbelievable!) The city has gotten so big and so congested that I almost never venture downtown any more. There are better stores and services in the suburbs, where we don’t have to fight narrow streets choked with traffic, an incomprehensible and illogical system of one-way streets, and ridiculous parking fees.
One thing that has not been outsourced to the more pleasant suburbs, though, is the justice system. Both the city and the county courthouses are firmly entrenched in the congested heart of downtown. And you have to be there to report in, preferably early, or they’ll come after you.
Insufficiently caffeinated, I staggered into the central waiting room, signed in on a computer system which would have been confusing even if I had been fully awake, and then sat down to wait. I had brought my ereader, and a small notebook where I could jot things down if something struck me, but I’ve never liked to read early in the morning and as far as I’m concerned writing anything more than a check by hand is cruel and unusual punishment. I’m used to working in the morning. I get up, take my first mug of coffee into my office and usually have written a minimum of 2-3 pages before The Husband staggers into consciousness wanting breakfast.
Sitting in a large, ugly, noisy room filled with all kinds of people is not conducive to creativity, even if I were to bring a purse computer. I didn’t, because there are no desks – only sublimely uncomfortable chairs – and I’ve never mastered balancing anything on my lap.
It was a wonderful place for people-watching, though. Except for royalty and street people just about every stratum of society was represented in the central jury room. The interactions between these strata was both saddening and amusing and, in one case, almost frightening. I did make a few notes on character types; being there was great research for a writer and I always try to make the best of any situation!
As for street people, I saw more than enough between the parking lot and the court building. No royalty anywhere, though.
If jury duty is even a pale reflection of jail, I am going to be much more careful about adhering to the letter of the law in the future. The surroundings are unspeakably drab. You are referred to by your juror number, not your name. You have to line up for everything. Once in the central jury room you cannot leave except when you are called for a panel and then you are escorted out under guard. You can’t leave the room otherwise, not even to get coffee, no matter how badly it might be needed. There was a big, muscled and armed guard at the door to enforce our compliance. Thank goodness there was a fairly decent restroom attached to the jury room for which no special permission or escort was needed. There was no television nor even Musak. By the time the time for lunch arrived I was already making plans on how to break out. Luckily no more juries were needed and those of us who had not been called were allowed to escape… er, to leave.
To be absolutely honest, in the grand scheme of things the experience was not overly onerous. Dangerous, no. Interruptive of my schedule, yes. Boring, definitely. I know that the right of trial by a jury of one’s peers is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our legal system, that serving on a jury is both a right and a duty of every citizen if we are to remain a free and just people. I respect the law and the belief system that brought it into being.
Our laws say that when you are called for jury duty you should appear, and I did. There’s no law that says I have to like it.