No matter how much people complain about their boring daily routines, few want the unpredictability of serving on a jury
Having to determine a defendant’s innocence or guilt is a responsibility many hope to avoid
By David Maril
Isn’t it funny how so many people who complain about being stuck in a routine moan and groan when the summons comes for jury duty?
Here’s possibly a chance for a full day’s pay from work along with the opportunity to experience something different.
However, when the envelope arrives, most of us try to postpone or get out of serving. Much of the time, you learn a day before having to report, that your services will not be needed. Other times, you do have to report and wait to find out whether a case will be scheduled that requires your jury service.
While reading accounts of the deadlocked jury in the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial the other day, I received a notice for possible jury duty in September.
Not having received a similar court invitation for four years, the hope was my name had fallen off the lost or been misplaced.
One never knows what type of case you might have to deliberate on. It could be a domestic dispute, robbery, a boring business case or some type of high-profile case that is full of violence, twisted behavior and numerous complications. A case can last one day or weeks. Who knows?
THE MEMORIES of my last date in court, which at the time was in Quincy, Massachusetts, are still fresh in my mind.
Entering the old courthouse, you felt as if you were in an airport when the security guard made you empty your pockets and walk through an x-ray machine. These days, with all the terror alerts and tragic, violent incidents all over the world committed by disturbed, irrational, and unpredictable individuals, the security precautions are no doubt even more vigilant.
A few decades ago, a call to jury duty meant formal attire. Four years ago, all but a few of the participants were anything more than casually dressed. Today, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few potential jurors less than resplendent in tank tops, flip-flops and sweatpants or workout shorts.
My reporting date four years ago was in early December. The first words I heard when I entered the selection waiting room were, “I just hope I get out of here in time to make my office’s Christmas party,” a woman was remarking.
AT 8:45 AM, a uniformed court officer named Joe, marched in to explain the proceedings. Joe turned out to be a very reasonable and flexible administrator. When he discovered one juror came in a day too early, he gave the man credit for the appearance instead of making him come back on his scheduled date.
Joe apologized to us for the fact the building didn’t have food service and promised he’d keep us informed of our status for the day.
He returned a few minutes later, introducing “Judge Buckley”, a short, grandfatherly looking gentleman in a dark robe who could have easily be cast in Lewis Stone’s role as Judge Hardy if MGM decides to start filming new Andy Hardy movies.
THE JUDGE WELCOMED us, told us about our obligations to weigh the facts if we served and how important a part of the system we had become just by being there.
After he left, we viewed a short movie reiterating our responsibilities.
Then the long wait began.
Joe explained there would be a lot of traffic in the hallway with prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, prisoners and defendants milling around in the halls.
“Don’t be alarmed by seeing prisoners in handcuffs and chains walking with one of the officers.,” Joe said. “If you see one without any officer, you should be concerned and let one of us know,” he quipped.
Every hour or so, Joe would return with an update and send us on a 15-minute break.
At 11 a.m., he said all but two cases had been settled.
THE MORNING dragged on and the room seemed to get hotter.
The hacking sounds of coughs from people in the back of the room, fighting colds and flu, grew louder and more frequent.
A little after 10 a.m., a boy, looking around 16, hopped by in cuffs and chains, wearing a grin as if the whole spectacle was a big joke.
Earlier a handcuffed kid was led away in tears.
Lawyers were all over the place in the hallway, huddling with clients.
We had been warned to not talk to anyone in the hall in case we ended up serving in their case. But you couldn't help trying to listen in to their conversations, just to break the monotony.
One lawyer, heading away from the court room, was yelling at his teenage client. “What’s wrong with you? What are you trying to do, showing the judge so much disrespect?”
If this was Judge Buckley, you could picture him shifting out of his grandfatherly demeanor and being tough, upholding the dignity of the court.
At noon, Joe returned to tell us we were down to one case.
“The defense lawyer wants a jury trial but the judge is still working out some things,” he said.
AFTER JOE LEFT, a guy near the front, wisecracked, “It figures, we’ve got to run into the next Perry Mason, insisting on trying his case.”
A woman in the back countered with, “I hope there is a trial. I’ll take this over work any day. Wouldn’t it be great if we had to be sequestered?”
An annoyed gentleman in the front row turned around and answered, “The sad part is if there is a trial today, you are the type who will be the first person disqualified.”
Several others nodded in agreement
FINALLY, A little before 1 p.m., Joe returned and shut the door.
“Well,” he started and paused. “This case will be tried but the judge felt since you’d all been here since 8:30, it wouldn't be fair to make you sit on this case. It’s scheduled for Thursday and you are free to go.”
But like Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to conclude roll call on “Hill Street Blues”, Joe put his hands up and added, “Just one more thing. The judge wanted me to be sure you understand you didn’t waste the day just sitting here. The fact you were here put pressure on others to settle. You have performed your civic duty.”
More than one person heading out was heard to remark, “It’s great to be free and work looks pretty good tomorrow.”
David Maril has been a columnist, sports editor and copy editor at three newspapers published in Massachusetts, winning numerous writing and section-design awards. As sports editor of the Milford Daily News, he covered the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and the New England Patriots. At the Brockton Enterprise he served as vice president of the newspaper’s guild, dealing with contract negotiations and workforce issues through difficult economic times. He also served on the board of the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, where he is a lifetime member and voter in Major League Baseball’s annual Cooperstown Hall of Fame balloting. For several years was a columnist for Voice Of Baltimore. The son of the late artist Herman Maril, whose work is included in over 100 museum collections, David splits his time between Cape Cod, MA and Baltimore, MD. He currently serves as president of the Herman Maril Foundation, which supports curatorial projects, art education programs and exhibitions related to the study of his father’s work. The website, featuring his father’s artwork, is hermanmaril.com. A graduate of Park School in Brooklandville, MD, David majored in English at Clark University in Worcester, MA.
If you wold like to comment on this blog David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.