There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors. ~Adrienne Rich
Last week I was called to do my civil duty, jury duty. Actually, I was mailed a questionnaire that I either had to fill out and mail back, or get online to complete. I chose the later, 1) because it was easier and 2) it said I needed to return it in seven days, and I honestly had no idea how long it sat in a pile of mail I didn’t get to sorting.
I remember in my early twenties I received a similar notice, of course there wasn’t an option to fill out a form online. In fact, I had to call a supplied phone number the night before to see if I was required to attend. This time, the night before, I received a text message and an email telling me to appear at the Greensburg County Court House at 8:30 am., no other instructions, simply the report time and location. It might have been my wild imagination, but it had a James Bond feel to it.
Was I excited. To be honest, no. I had a ton of work to do for Thrill of the Hunt and my dog scavenger hunt events, and it really was inconvenient, but I guess such is life.
Upon walking up the sidewalk to the courthouse doors, I saw a small crowd of individuals holding their paperwork for jury duty. Wondering why they were standing around and not going inside to report, I asked the one guy in line. He told me, we weren’t allowed in yet. Really?
Well, it wasn’t much longer after that, that we made our way through metal detectors monitored by armed police officers, to a large room prepared for the jurors.
What an interesting process. There were about sixty of us, and we each had a bar code name badge we were required to sport and move around in groups like branded cattle.
Something that struck me as odd, no one asked to see my drivers license or any form of identification. In fact, when I walked in the ground floor room, designated to host us for the majority of the day, they scanned each of our ID badges. Out of curiosity, I quickly glanced at the computer screen once my tag was scanned. Honestly, I thought I’d see a picture of me with my name and address, at the very least. I didn’t think they’d have my facebook profile picture, but I thought maybe my driver’s license or even my gun permit picture. Neither showed up, not even my address. What I did see in a very ancient type of font and minimalist computer font in green coloring on a dark background, was simply my name. It did include my middle initial, which I never use. How did they know I was Heather Piper and not a stand in?
I know this is a bit far fetched, but I was watching The Big Bang Theory earlier in the week and it was the episode where Sheldon paid Stewart to fill in for him with Amy, and later to wait in line at the movies or something. Instantly, I thought, I should pay someone to take my place for jury duty. Not that I would do it, but the idea did cross my mind, especially after seeing the lack of authenticating for each individual.
Once in our large basement room, we were given instructions on restroom facilities, vending machines and what we were aloud to do and not allowed. I was surprised they had two television screens for us, (as long as it wasn’t local news), a rack of magazines, a coffee and tea area (no water) and the seats weren’t completely awful.
A local judge came in to give us the run down of the day’s itinerary and to make a statement what jury duty is all about. He did comment that most people try to get out of it, guilty, and don’t want to be there, guilty, and yet they’re the most important part of our judicial system.
Believe it or not, completely by happenstance, I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the thousandth time. (One of my most favorite books ever!) I was at the part when Atticus Finch was in the courtroom and the lawyers were cross examining their witnesses. I love the line at the end of chapter 21, page 242, when Revered Sykes said, “Miss Jean Louise (Scout), stand up, your father’s passin’.”
That actually made me stop to consider what jury duty really meant. Before I walked into the courthouse that day, I was given all sorts of advice on how to get out jury duty, and what to say, blah blah blah. It all sounded good to me until two things happened. After listening to the judge, I began to wonder what it would be like to actually sit through an entire trial and be one of the deciding voices. Then it hit me, what if I was on trial one day? I’d want a group of my peers, those with reasonable common sense and good moral judgement, sitting there to rein on my verdict. I soon began to think differently about the process and my call to civil duty.
Soon they organized us into the small groups, and escorted us upstairs via the elevator, to courtroom number five. Being an art major, my eyes tend to get drawn into the architecture and artistry of my environment. This room certainly sucked me in.
The courtroom showed its years of character with the dark stained wood finished trimming and pews. The walls and columns surrounding the judge’s chair were painted a mint green matte finish. Yes, it was a monochromatic mint green mess. My first thought was a nice stone or taupe color would do the room some justice (pun totally intended). There were three main murals on the ceiling each labeled Justice, Moderation, and Mercy. Instantly, I understood the first and last, but the Moderation threw me for a loop.
It was a mural, I’m not sure if it was fresco or simply acrylic or oil painting, containing a nude younger man, forcefully holding a chain attached to the collar of a Boxer type of dog. He was also holding something in his left hand, but it wasn’t quite clear. Keep in mind he was laying face up on steps. Odd. I’m sure the meaning is very clear to those in the legal field, but it struck me as an enigma, especially since it was placed in the center sandwiched by Justice and Mercy. I could go on and on about the decor but that would take me several blog posts to really capture the essence of the room.
Soon the judge arrived and introduced us to the witnesses, and the legal staff for both sides. Everyone turned around and gave awkward smiles and nods to us. Honestly, I was half paying attention. The judge also gave us instructions on what to expect through the the day and stressed the importance of this process and the extreme importance of the jury. He brought up a good point. He said something along the lines of, “The jury is so important that’s why they’re seated toward the front so they can hear the trial but also see the facial expressions and body language as well.”
Everyone was given a clipboard with a questionnaire to fill out, to be signed and turned into the officers present. Not trying to pry, but the guy beside me, who was probably in his late fifties early sixties, took Forever to fill his out. It was a list of questions and we had to mark yes or no. No essay involved, no major thought provoking questions, pretty basic simple straightforward stuff. My first thought was, this man can’t read very well. I don’t know that to be true, perhaps he had a dyslexia or a reading comprehension issue, or he was just a slow reader. Either way, he was the last person, out of all sixty of us who turned in his form. The last. Is that important? Not really, not in my eyes, that is until what happened next.
Eventually, we were asked to sit in silence (without food or drink, did I mention it was fast approaching lunch?) while they called each and everyone of us to be interviewed. Are you kidding? Nope. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
On a side note, I tried to make the most of my unplugged quite time with To Kill a Mockingbird. Within minutes of pulling out my book and getting comfy in my seat, the guy beside me, yes the questionnaire guy, began fidgeting. I don’t mind being restless, because I can be the same way, but I don’t like the huffing and puffing and the comments said to himself, yet purposely loud enough so his neighbors could hear, type of behavior. It’s true, misery does loves company.
He kept mumbling about making money, and huffing and puffing his breath, like it was going to speed things up. Then, after they’d announce another number, he’d huff even louder, and under his breath say, “This is going to take all day.” or something along those lines. He was one of those people who wanted to get others joining in on his complaints. He wanted everyone to feel his attitude and express it. You know those types of people, who are simply miserable.
I almost got past all that, except he wasn’t allowed to wear his baseball camp in the courtroom. He kept capping his knee and with each huff and puff he’d uncap it and recap it again, making subtle suction types of noise mixed with fabric rubbing together. He’d cross his legs, resting his ankle across the opposite knee, cap and recap his hat. Then, switch legs to continue the adjustment process of the hat. It was simply irritating. I looked around, and everyone else brought something to occupy their time, except him.
I could even get past all that, but the constantly making comments about our number in line was too much. I mean, our numbers were in the twenties, not the sixties and I think they moved through the potential candidates rather quickly.
They called us by our numbers into another room where the key players, including the judge was seated at a large conference table ready to ask us questions. I’m sorry, but that was intense, even though everyone was very nice and cordial.
Eventually, I was released without being chosen. Honestly, it was bittersweet. Perhaps, I wasn’t the best person for the case. Maybe next time.
On a side note, I was very much surprised to find a court stenographer working her typing magic. Seriously, with all this technology of recording voices and video, which is probably more accurate then a stenographer, why continue to use one? Then, add all the apps and technology and services for transcribing the court case. That one threw me for a loop. Can anyone tell me why the court systems haven’t moved along with technology? Or perhaps it’s only the local court systems?