Jury Duty: Inconvenience, Truth and Opportunity

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

Six hours after I checked in for jury duty today, I made it to the jury room along with the suburbs’ best approximation of the American melting pot.

Judge Judy (really, that is her name) opened with: “Jury Duty is both instrumental to our American system of justice and an inconvenience to nearly every juror.”

Yup.  But if you are remotely fascinated by anthropology, jury duty is a treasure trove of ideas, ideals and “who’da thunk” insights on the human species in your corner of the world.  A few observations from today:

The Generation Gap Filler.
How long would it take you, if forced to sit right next to a complete stranger of a vastly different generation, to strike up a conversation? A friendship?

In our shared nine hours, I participated in, and witnessed many pleasant conversations, but one I overhead fascinated me the most.  Likely the very youngest and the very oldest juror each shared a row in the antiseptic waiting room and began a conversation so engaging, that I admit to ditching my new book club read to eavesdrop.

The octogenarian opened the gambit with a seemingly oddball question to the college boy next to him about whether he studied Daniel Boone in school… One thing led to another and the two engaged in a verbal tennis match of observation and follow-up questioning that covered:

1. Innovation:
Serve:  college boy snapped a selfie of the two of them to exhibit the speed of social          media and innovation of the iphone.
Return: elderly man. “Well I’ll be darned. That’s us! Steve Jobs was definitely an
innovator, even if he didn’t invent the phone, the camera or the computer. But do
you know the only president to have a patent? Abraham Lincoln for an inflatable
bellows patent that was secured in 1849 for use to raise river boats  stuck on a sand

2. Fact Checking:
Serve: elderly man. “Did you know Madam Curie won two nobel prizes, one of which she shared with her husband? And I have my own connection with great thinkers: I once had a science class with Albert Einstein’s great niece–and beat her best scores!”
Return: college boy. “Wow, when was Albert Einstein alive again?”
Volley: elderly man. “He lived to his mid 60’s I think. I believe he was born March 14, 1879…”
Deuce: college boy. “Want me to check on my iphone? Oh, this says he was born March 15, 1879.”
Advantage out: ” Well, I’ll be darned. How’d I miss a day?”

This pair sought one another out during breaks and picked up their educational exploration –and blossoming friendship–right where they’d left off . It was hard not to follow them and tune in to see how many times the Grandfather might just trump Google…

The Inequity of Justice
An hour after everyone was seated and the Jury director was wrapping up orientation instruction to a room full of 200 plus prospective jurors, a woman in a friendly-colored summer pastel cotton outfit, swept into the room, towing a quiet young man.

They sat and listened for about a minute, until the director asked if there was anyone in the room she hadn’t called from her list.

“You haven’t called this young man!” Shouted the woman, clearly aggravated.  “He got a jury summons; that was clearly your error. He has Down’s Syndrome.”

The director apologized and offered to speak with the woman separately in 5 minutes after she dispatched this group to the jury room where a  judge was waiting.

There could have been a million reasons why the situation unhinged the woman. Certainly, a misdirected jury summons–yet another paperwork reminder of the injustice of her son’s human experience–set the wheels in motion.  “I WILL NOT WAIT! AND, I DO NOT APPRECIATE THAT YOU ARE BLATANTLY WASTING MY TIME,” countered the woman, who likely spent the majority of her mothering years having to become increasingly assertive in advocating for her child, against the tide of society’s inequities.

Sometimes there is no right and wrong when it comes to rights of the wronged.

Running The Selection Inquisition: Balance of Sensitivity and Humor
The jury selection process is particularly fascinating, to have a front row seat to learn the backgrounds and biases of 18 total strangers. But it is a dicey business to socially undress a dozen people in front of a roomful of strangers. It takes a special touch to be the judge and have the job of  drilling–in a two minute group interview– into the impact of a father’s alcoholism or a spouse’s violence on a person’s ability to be an impartial judge of character on a jury.

This judge used plain speaking and a little humor to set the context; and she did it well. To set context she told the “underwear story” about a man who, 25 years after his underwear was stolen from a public laundromat (and the thief never tracked),  still held the view that all police were uncommitted to do their jobs well–and solve all reported crimes. “Are you,” she’d subsequently ask each of the 18 seated juror candidates,  “the underwear guy?”

She was also quick to show her own bias: as the long day drew to an end, without a jury fully selected, she asked for final questions.  One man –still in the back up group in the gallery–stood up and offered to take the place of anyone seated so far in the jury box, claiming he was keen for the opportunity to participate in the process for the first time. Without pause, Judge Judy shot back: “Remember what I said at the beginning about inconvenience? We tend to be suspicious of anyone who volunteers to be here.”









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