Jury Duty

by elizabeth | January 11th, 2011

Jury Box

I have just returned from my final day of Kings County jury duty. I know many people are not interested in serving, but I consider it to be a civic duty and responsibility. Plus, last time I was called, I was not selected or even directly questioned for a case, so I was very curious to see what it was all about!

I arrived at the court house Wednesday morning, waited in line to go through the metal detector, and took my place among the hundreds of other Brooklynites seated in a well-lit room. Some thumbed the “Trial Juror’s Handbook,” some typed away furiously on laptops, and others (me among them) pulled out a book or newspaper. Names were called in groups, and eventually I headed to a windowless courtroom on the 7th floor to be questioned for a trial. We filled out some paperwork, and a few people were dismissed on the basis of that alone. The rest of us took our places in the jury box and attorneys from both sides questioned us both directly and as a group. Did we know the area where the alleged incident took place? Did we have any experience with medicine or law? Did we have any objection to awarding money? Did we think we could put aside prior knowledge and judge only the evidence?

Finally, some of us were selected, and sworn in by a court clerk who had both a serious manner and the ability to make a room full of potential jurors laugh. Come back tomorrow at 10am, he told us.

Thursday morning, 10:15am. Our case hasn’t been called yet. I’m alternately reading my book and noticing fashion DOs and DON’Ts. Trend alert: woolen knickers and tights on men. Hmm… (Also: what’s up with not dressing well for this? It seems like one of the few modern occasions when professional and courteous dressing should still hold.) Well, to make a long and boring story short, our case wasn’t called until about 4pm. Apparently the lawyers had spent another day questioning people to complete the jury (8 people – 6 jurors and 2 alternates). So Friday it would be!

Friday brought the news that the trial was being put off until Monday. I had a few details about the nature of the case from our questioning period, but I really tried to put it out of my mind until Monday – to hear it fairly and directly during the trial. I was nervous about being a juror – actually being in the courtroom, and then deliberating – but I knew that it would be okay and that I would do a good job.

Monday morning, our case was called right away. A very nice court officer showed us to our jury room, complete with a conference table and chairs, windows overlooking the Marriott, and two tiny bathrooms. We were each given a number, corresponding to the order in which we had been chosen (I was #5), and then lined up and escorted into the courtroom with a command to the court of “All rise – jury entering.” The judge, who looked very much like Santa Claus (or at least the white version of Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), told us what to expect, what to consider as evidence, and that we were not to talk even to each other about the case until its conclusion, as we would not have heard all of the evidence yet.

Uncle Phil

And with that we were off – listening to opening arguments from both sides, and testimony from an expert witness and the plaintiff. There were frequent interruptions and “recesses” for reasons like evidence review, consultation with the judge, and lunch – so we ended up walking the hall between the courtroom and our jury room a lot. To dispel all of that quiet listening time in the courtroom, we chatted about silly things – movies and sports and the weather. There was a rapport among us, and an investment in the serious job we were to do. We were certainly a cross-section of the Borough in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, profession, etc. – but coming together to be a group, if only for a short while. There was a bond.

So when we arrived this morning and were brought into the courtroom only to hear that the parties had settled, it was a bit of a let-down. Back in the jury room, we speculated about which party had “blinked first.” We shared some preliminary impressions of yesterday’s proceedings. And then we headed downstairs to get our discharge letters, exempting us from jury duty for 8 years. Just before we left the courthouse, the attorneys from both sides stopped us to ask our impressions of the case from what we had heard so far. Did we believe the incident took place? Did we believe that there was psychological damage as a result? Did we really think the older lawyer hadn’t known what Facebook was? I was surprised that they would speak with us directly – essentially asking for performance feedback. But I suppose that’s a sign of wanting to be great at your job – do it, ask for feedback, and improve.

Definitely an interesting experience…… see you in 2019, jury duty.

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elizabeth! is a vocalist, trombonist, and songwriter working in NYC and Los Angeles. Originally from Vermont, she studied neuroscience at Harvard before moving to NYC to play, tour, and record with jazz musicians, indie rockers, pop stars and more. Her new album of original jazzy pop tunes was just released on Canopy Jazz!

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