Do Your Civil Duty: Jury Duty

Got called up for jury duty; I was due for it since the last time was in summer of 1998 (didn’t get selected; had my LSAT book at the time, and neither cousel in the criminal nor the civil cases were interested in selecting me); so went off to Kings County’s own criminal courthouse in Brooklyn on Jay Street on Thursday and Friday. Won’t go into it too much (am I even allowed to do that?; case is on-going, even if I didn’t get selected to serve on the jury?).

What can I say… apparently 360 Adams is in the middle of more renovations, so the central Jury Assembly is currently located at 320 Jay (aka 12 Metrotech). The new courthouse (home to the new Family Court and Criminal Court) is nice and new all right – (fake?) wood paneling; glass and metallic veneer – very modern and clean (which probably makes people very happy, or at least not feeling injustice right away). Clean bathrooms (yeah, I would take that into account).

Jury assembly room itself – nicer than what I remembered of 360 Adams; the chairs were clean and comfy, like airport terminal seating. They tried to put on CNN or MSNBC on the tv’s, but picture was fuzzy. They even have access to the Internet, for those who want to use the computers for e-mail or (at least not illegal) other purposes.

Got called up for a case: criminal; attempted murder and weapon possession charges. Practically dozing off; it got boring just waiting before we were inside the courtroom. Voir dire. Jurors tired of waiting and waiting and waiting. Civil duty is not appreciated; “time is money”; blah, blah, blah. People so hate jury duty. One lady raised her hand when the judge asked who might have a disability to prevent them from serving; she said “I just don’t want to be here” – which got the judge’s ire. When the judge dismissed us for the day to return at 9am for more voir dire, same lady started bawling and yelling “No!” and tried to approach the bench; bailiffs had to hold her back. Nutty lady. Maybe she was getting angsty because she had preparations for Yom Kippur or other personal matters, but she didn’t have to get so hysterical.

So, on Friday morning, got selected for voir dire. Got dismissed. Was impressed by the no-nonsense and clarity of the ADA, a youngish female; not so impressed by the ramblingness of the defense counsel – instead of really asking questions at voir dire, he went on and on about how we’re to have an open mind and all that (with the judge interrupting him to correct him on the law at least twice, to instruct the jury that we can’t bring our outside knowledge on the case and, the day before – Thursday, with the ADA objecting at least twice; geez…).

Anyway, maybe my being a non-uniformed public servant and related to non-uniformed public servants probably wasn’t favorable to the defense attorney or my being a lawyer at all didn’t encourage either side to keep me on the jury. Who knows. At least that was done.
Got sent back down; half afraid of a civil trial’s voir dire, which would have given me another day of jury duty. Waited. Another group of jurors from the courtroom we were in came downstairs, apparently also not selected (and so the courtroom having completed the empaneling of jurors). After lunch, another hour’s waiting; the clerk dismissed the latter group, which sent my group’s growing ire into more ire. More waiting. Apparently, our cards didn’t make it down from the courtroom; stupid bureaucracy. The natives getting restless, accusing the clerks of not working. Look, I don’t blame the clerks; their jobs are thankless stuff and I’m just glad I don’t work in the clerk’s office; and it’s not like they’ve total control of how cards get around. The system’s not totally electronic/perfect yet. But, instead of being discharged from jury duty at 2:30, I left at 4pm. Ugh. Oh well – now I don’t have to serve for at least 6 years.

What impressed me, other than the modernity and cleanliness of the new court: the diversity of Brooklyn. The white yuppie from Brooklyn Heights, the unemployed white ex-Legal Aid lawyer; the white media guy from Williamsburg, the Caribbean home health aide from East Flatbush; the Asian lawyer from Bensonhurst (me); the Asian math teacher; the guy from Boro Park; people from Sheepshead Bay and so on. We’re in the same boat.

The general distaste for jury duty was the one thing that bothered me. I can’t say I’m not one of those; I felt I could be fair, but I don’t want to spend more time in court when I was already out of the office for almost a week for vacation and my own cases’ needing attention. But at the same time, I understand the importance of jury duty. When I heard a lady snapping, “Why can’t they find people who want to do it…” instead of compelling people to come, I just thought – who the hell would volunteer to do jury duty? To do something for a few days of their lives? It’s not like joining the army or Peace Corps, but it’s important. We’re in a world where people don’t even vote voluntarily as it is. I’m not sure what to make of the state of our country when people don’t appreciate the system. We hate doing it, but surely we realize it’s the bedrock of this country. Ok, so we don’t realize it, but…

Even reading the past week’s NY Times’ coverage on the NYS Court system – well, I just feel troubled, and that’s not necessarily a good feeling for an officer of the court to have.

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