View Mobile Site

The civic duty sweepstakes known as jury duty

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED February 23, 2010 1:35 a.m.
Jury duty is a civic responsibility.

But many of us are quick to forget just that upon the arrival of the summons to contact Superior Court.

Last month, I received my jury duty call. I thought: No problem, I’ll make the call after 5 p.m. Friday of the said date, with strong chances I’d be making several ensuing calls to the court before being dismissed.

In fact, I had calculated three or maybe even four days of going through the process of calling the courts before getting cleared of my civic responsibility for this year and the next.

That’s how accordingly things went for me in past years. I was hoping for much of the same.

Yet five days after making the initial call – I also double checked online on the San Joaquin County Superior Court website – I finally received notice to report to the court house that very next day. Since I’ve never made it this far along the process of becoming a potential juror, I was a bit nervous.

Arriving on time at the jury assembly room was top priority. After checking in, I sat patiently in a roomful of potential jurors while awaiting further instructions. We were strangers in a place no different than my recent visit to the DMV or the last time I was at an East Coast airport terminal for an early morning flight from Baltimore to Chicago.

Thankfully, we had our share of reading material inside the jury assembly room. The television set was also tuned to the NBC Today Show during this idle time.

About an hour went by before we were finally herded out in groups. We had no idea if we were being assigned to a criminal or civil case at one of the upstairs court rooms.

Just my luck, my jury group ended up with a criminal case. The defendant and his legal representative were there along with prosecution and judge.

Part of the selection process includes potential jury members getting a chance to state his or her hardship case to the judge in order to get excused. Rather than take an extended lunch, I decided to stick around and listen to some of those excuses, thinking perhaps that I might even make a case for myself.

After listening to several such excuses, I was reminded by that little voice inside my head of my civic responsibility. I was onboard the rest of the way for the jury selection process. My goal was to leave the court house with my dignity intact.

The number of potential jurors had been whittled down from a roomful to 44. The judge questioned those of us remaining about our knowledge of street gangs.

About three years ago, I did a story on gang awareness during a presentation by Manteca Police to the Veritas School PTA. Based on that, I had to meet privately with the judge, defense and prosecutor to further discuss this matter.

They met with about dozen or so potential jurors on the same subject matter to close out the first day of the selection process. We were instructed to report back to court that following Tuesday.

All but one person returned that day. She was subsequently slapped with contempt-of-court by the judge.

On Day 2, we were issued assigned seating in the court room, thus, making it easier for the judge, the defense and prosecution to address each of us by name. At least that’s what I thought.

When asked, I did my best to articulate my answers as honestly as possible.

The judge released several people that day, including one person who he noted “would say anything to avoid serving on the jury.”

By this point in the process, I was curious about the specifics of this court case. It was almost like reading snippets of a good book.

Finally, the judge noted that the prosecution and defense could whittle down the list of jurors without reason. It was late in the afternoon.

Lo and behold, my name was the first announced by the prosecutor. The judge thanked me for my services and, as parting words, uttered: “the next time I pick up the Bulletin, I’ll make sure to look up your byline.”

I walked out of the court room with my dignity intact. That’s all I asked.
Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...