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Civic Duty for $9 Per Day

Yesterday afternoon I called in, at 4:30 as directed, and listened to the message. My heart sank jut a little: the number printed on my jury summons was well within the range that was obligated to report the following day.

I reported at 8:30 with a copy of The Lost Symbol on my Kindle and a copy of The Golfing Machine in hard cover.

I found my way to the proper room - room 211 - without any trouble. I told them my name and they gave me form to fill out along with an "Erie County JURY" button I was told to wear on my chest at all times.

I wasn't asked to produce ID. In fact, at no point in the day was my ID confirmed.I took a seat in the corner of a large room. I was roughly 35th of about 100 people that would eventually show up. I filled out my form - which asked me questions like "I believe that a police officer is more likely to tell the truth" (Yes/No) and general questions about my job, my home county, etc.

At no point was I told to turn off my phone, so I got on Facebook and posted an update about how there were no minorities. Eventually two arrived - out of about 100 people.

We watched a video with a local judge telling us about the process we'd endure today. I found it odd that he made a point of saying that there was nothing you could say to guarantee you'd get on - or not get on - a jury. Apparently a lot of people really want to be on a jury. Weirdos. 😉

The woman who was running the whole thing - the "jury coordinator" or something - told us that we'd be given $9, that parking was only $3 if we had our tickets stamped, and that taxes wouldn't be withheld so we had to make sure to declare the nine lousy dollars on our taxes. I kinda wish I had the chance to decline the $9 just to avoid the hassle of declaring it as miscellaneous income.

Cue up another hour of waiting. By this point it's 10:00. 35 or so people's names are called and they're pulled to go to jury selection.

Half an hour goes by. I'm pulled - as the 32nd of 35 potential jurors - for an aggravated assault case from in front of a club in Erie in May, 2009. Both lawyers were given the chance to ask us questions like "do you have any physical ailments that would prevent you from being able to do this?" or "have you or anyone close to you ever been a victim of an assault?" Of those who raised their hands, all were asked if they could put that aside and render an impartial decision. Both took steps to clarify that everyone should have chosen "No" to the policeman question.

The entire time the defendant was seated at the desk on the right side while his girlfriend/wife and two small children were seated behind him in the gallery where all of us were seated.

After conferring for 45 minutes, the two lawyers passed their final list on to the judge's assistant (I'm sure she has a title, but I'm going with "assistant" for this). Names were called out and jurors were selected. They got to 13 by about juror #26, so the rest of us returned to the waiting room.

After 15 minutes - it was now 11:45 - they came in and released us to lunch. We had to return by 11:15.

I went to find a bank because - stupid me - I'd assumed parking was free for jury duty members and I had no cash. I did that, then met up with some fellow jurors at McDonald's. We joked that we were eating there so we could legitimately fake a medical emergency later on. The oddest moment came when the defendant in the assault case came in and sat a table away! Weird…

So we wander back and sit again for another hour. At 2:00, the 50 of us remaining (I was #47 called) were taken to a civil suit trial. A woman was rear-ended at a stop sign, and the defendant - a former police officer and current part-time sheriff (or something) claimed that he had been rear-ended himself, causing the woman's injuries. She supposedly had lower back injuries, had been on drugs, couldn't work the same types of jobs she could before, and so on. Basically, the jury would be responsible for figuring out whether she was full of shit. The accident occurred in 2004 - so I'm a bit surprised it wasn't in court until 2010.

At any rate, the question-and-answer section - voir dire - lasted much longer with 50 people and questions like "have you or anyone in your family or friends ever worked for an insurance agency?" "… in the medical profession?" "… ever had back pain?" "… ever been in an auto accident?" After each person was questioned they were asked and answered the only question that really mattered in the end: can you be impartial?

A good number of people - primarily the ones who had back injuries or were very close to someone with a back injury - claimed that they'd be unable to be impartial. This elicited groans from those of us who couldn't think of an excuse to try to remove ourselves from consideration. 🙂

Finally, at 4:30, 14 jurors were selected (ending somewhere around juror #35, leaving plenty of space before they got to me) and the rest of us were excused.

We were told to leave our buttons. We didn't even get a 50 cent button as a souvenir. I joked that maybe if I kept the button, they'd keep their $9. 😛

P.S. One of the jurors looked just like Darlene from Roseanne (or the scientist on Big Bang Theory - the same actress). Just like her. Freaky.

3 Responses to "Civic Duty for $9 Per Day"

  1. Easiest way to get off of jury duty? Claim to be a lawyer or someone who has had extensive experience with the law.... police officer, security guard, etc.... heck even claiming to have taken several legal studies classes in college.

  2. One of the potential jurors each time was a cop, and another was a lawyer. Neither was chosen. 😉

    It seemed to me the easiest way - without really lying a bunch - was to find a way that you could claim to be impartial. Of course, that would be lying in and of itself, but at least you wouldn't be lying about having taken law classes or something.

    I've also heard that simply having a job that requires some intelligence is no good. They want people who are easily led and don't tend to think for themselves.

  3. It isn't uncommon for a case to take that long to reach litigation. And nobody really like jury duty, or the unequal compensation for taking time off work....