Jury Duty Part 2

On a normal work week, the Jury Duty hot line is updated on Sunday night, but since it was a four day week, I had to call in on Monday night, after <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />6 pm, to find out if I had to report for Jury Duty the following day. My heart was pounding as I dialed, thinking it would feel like winning the lottery if the recording didn’t order me in. I punched in my juror number, then the # sign, then #1 and after confirming the first three letters of my last name I held my breath … “Please report to … at … time”. I slammed the phone down and announced the terrible news to my brood.

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First thing my husband had to do was re-schedule his car’s service appointment. No big deal, the car can wait. My husband would ask his boss for all the flexibility he could get this week, letting him know of the situation. This wasn’t so hard to do either. A couple of months ago, my dear spouse dodged a bullet. He got “the letter” and being the only bread winner in the house, he mistakenly thought the court would surely understand. It did not. His boss wrote the court a letter on his behalf stating how he would suffer hardship, “extreme” at that, since he’s commission based. DENIED. He went through the dialing ritual, but the recording did not summon him in at all. Phew!


For me, the preparations began the night before with my clothes laid out, the after school logistics arranged, the breakfast menu described (cereal, of course), and lunches would have to be purchased at the school cafeteria(Yuck! in unison). This was going to be a major inconvenience.


We were all in bed by 10:30 pm, and my alarm was set for 5:30 am since I had to report for jury duty by 7:30 am on Tuesday morning. I would be out of the house before the kids had even had their breakfast – a strange feeling indeed. Having read all four pages of instructions on where to park, what to bring and what vending machines were available, I packed a few snacks along with an appropriate book, John Grisham’s The Appeal, to help pass the waiting time I was warned about in the instructions.


Heading out that morning, I had those same feelings I did when I worked full time, back in the day, when I was nicely dressed and feeling independent. I drove myself to the Federal Court house downtown, and I made my first mistake. I parked in the garage which was conveniently located closest to the jury room and had to pay $10. The designated free parking garage for jury members was a block and half away. Now, my $40 per day jury payment was down to $30, the equivalent to half a gas tank in my mommy mobile. Heals clacking against the sidewalk pavement, I hurry up to get in line to wait my turn — the line of prospective jurors snaked outside the building — to go through metal detectors, have the guards check my drivers’ license and juror badge before crossing into the reporting area.


“Wait, I’m not traveling anywhere, am I?”  I asked myself. Oh, no, this is just the post 9/11 ritual every government building probably has in place. Boy, have I been living in a bubble! I thought.


Next, I whip out my letter with my tear-out juror badge and stand in another line waiting to check-in. I take a look around and notice all the people with that I-just-woke-up look on their faces. As we’re being filed in front of the clerk’s windows, I also hear people on cell phones checking in at work, others describing the procedure to someone else on the other end who’s interested in their day. My turn comes up at the window, and I take a stab at asking why I had to pay for parking; the clerk tells me I parked in the wrong garage.


“You had to park at the mall, as if you were going shopping” he tells me. Is he taunting me or what? I thought. When I had to pre-pay for my parking, I new I had parked in the wrong place, but I thought to ask the clerk in case he took pity on my stupidity and maybe get reimbursed. No refund for you! I followed the line past a table marked with the numbers 1, 2, and 3, and took a piece of paper from each of the pigeon holes as instructed at the window; I then turned around and took a moment to stake out my spot for the day.


The room was vast, cavernous and surprisingly new. The five ceiling-mounted television sets and the projection screen behind the podium were all showing the morning news. The 200 or so orderly row of cushioned chairs and butter cream colored walls were instantly relaxing. I chose a seat near the aisle away from the wall of windows next to the street, so I could settle in and start on my reading (a luxury for me since home is full of distractions). I then discovered the vending machines; snacks, water, soda and yes … coffee, my only addiction was readily available! I scrounged up .75 cents and pressed the number for a cappuccino – Starbucks would not be getting my daily contribution today! Back in my seat, I’m ready for an almost Zen moment with my book and coffee and its only 8 a.m., when someone taps on the microphone and begins greeting us. She tells us exactly what we wanted to know which was not described in the pages of our summons; how and when we’d be in the actual court room.


Since most of us there had made preparations just to be able to be at the court house that morning, well, we might as well get in on the action. And just like in the old school days when the teacher would pick one student to take something to the front office, we would feel lucky if our names would be called among the first ones to go inside the actual federal court room for voire dire. Voire dire is the legal term for the process of questioning potential jury members undergo by either attorneys or the judge to find out if that person has a precluding association or pre-conceived idea about the trail and the person’s guilt or not.


We're told the judges are not even at the court house yet, so we have to wait until 9 am for this procedure. In the meantime, we are now watching a DVD which re-enacts the process of voire dire as well as the rejection one might get, and subsequently being sent home, if not deemed qualified for the trial. The movie also goes through all the steps of a trail in case we are chosen as part of a jury. Before the movie starts, the head clerk, another sweet-voiced lady, tells us that even though there are about 85 of us in the room only about 30 will be called in since there is only one trial on the calendar for that day. This is an anomaly she assures us. I start to think this is all so coldly calculated; I’m told to “choose” this week, and now there’s only one trial. I’ll start my book.


A chapter into my book I think, “This isn’t so bad after all. I’m getting paid to read”, and mentally justify my idle time this way.


By 8:55 am the names are called out in alphabetical order after some kind of machine randomly selected them, the same way the summons were selected, we are told. The lady goes down the list, and since my last name starts with a “V” (I call this the curse of the bottom of the alphabet, and my kids hate this too), I have to wait some more. The “S's” are up, and after about 15 of them she jumps to the “W's”. I curse again, turn the page in my book and take a sip of my vending machine concoction.


A little later, another announcement comes over the PA; we have a 10 minute break. Whaaat? I’ve been on a break. What does she mean? I follow the heard past the metal detectors to the great outdoors. We aimlessly walk around. Ah! Now I understand a break as in break out! Quickly, run away, I think. Nope. Not worth it. But, I can see a Starbucks from here! No problem, I’ll just ask the nice young guy at the window if I have enough time to go get a decent cup o’ Joe and come back – I promise, I assure him.


“Your name might get called any minute, so it’s best you stay very close by”, he condescendingly informs me as though he were my parole officer. Feeling punished, I head back in, through the metal detectors and to my freezing seat. Before plopping down again, I go to the caffeine machine and as I approach it with a semi-joyful feeling, a neon pink piece of paper has been placed on the coin intake opening with the words “OUT OF ORDER” on it. I just think to myself, “Yup, this is a test”.


Another two hours, yes two hours, go by and at 11:30 the lady announces the jury has been selected and we are FREE to go. I quickly call my better half and let him know he’s also free to go about the rest of his work day; I call my friends and let them know they’re free of my kids too. I'm also free to restore order and routine in our home again. Freedom, something I take for granted everyday, until big brother drops in uninvited.


While waiting around the jury room that long day, I found out that if you have children below the age of 10 you'll be excused from jury duty. But if you have an 11 or 12 year old, you'll be considered eligible unless you are physically impaired or the children need special medical attention. Out of curiosity, and feeling protective of my new-found freedom, I asked the clerk when I'd be up for duty again, and she told me not for the next three years.


As I’m gathering my things and stuffing them into my bag I hear the little voice one last time say over the loudspeaker, “Don’t forget to call in after 6 pm tonight to get you reporting instructions for tomorrow”. Oh, just shove it up your nose! I think.


That evening, and for the next 3 I feel I’m a prisoner in my own home. Each evening, I tentatively call the hot line after 6 pm like I’m supposed to do; I cross my fingers and wait to hear my instructions. I am not required to report the recording tells me on two consecutive nights, and on the last day of my week on-call, the last day I could get ordered in and be selected to become part of a jury, I call in one more time and hear, “Your jury service term has ended. You do not need to call in again. Thank you for your service”.



Just put the $40 plus mileage check in the mail, please!

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