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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Doing my civic duty...

Well, I can't say I didn't jinx myself.

A few months back (late September or early October?), while I was over visiting with my parents, my mother got a jury summons in the mail. It was for November 6th. "Oh. I've never been summoned to jury duty before," I told her, and then went on to explain that maybe I had been, actually, but I was in college, living out of the area. And that was that. Until a few weeks later, that is, when I received my very own jury summons, also for November 6th (apparently the county of Cook, unlike the county of Kane, where my mom lives, doesn't believe in ample warning).

As it turned out, my summons was for "Standby Jury Duty," which meant I had to call the evening before to see if I was needed. I wasn't. However, it seems that if you are not selected for jury duty at that time, your name goes right back to the top of the list of potential jurors. So, a month and a half later, I received another summons--not standby this time--for jury duty on January 22nd.

So, that was Monday. I arrived and checked in, drawing a panel number at random from one of those large popcorn tins--panel 3, whatever that meant. I showed up promptly at 9:00 am, as requested on my summons, and I sat there in awkward silence with 70 or so other people for the next half hour, until someone finally spoke to us. It seems that they wait until 9:30 to give us poor saps a chance to get lost and find our way back to them. Anyway, they showed us some dumb video about how important we were, and then explained how the day was going to go: we were going to sit there in more awkward silence for now. If and when our panel number was called, we would be escorted to a courtroom, where we may or may not be chosen for jury duty. She also explained that it was entirely possible for us to have to sit there in awkward silence until 4:30 p.m., without ever being called. Alrighty then. Sounds like fun.

The movie and explanation ended around 10 a.m. I had brought a book, but instead I mostly sat there and zoned out. At 11:30, the Deputy came into the waiting room and called panels 3-10 down to the courtroom. It was a total of 48 people, from whom they would be selecting 14 people--12 jurors and 2 alternates. I guess the possibility also existed that if they exhausted all 48 people without finding their 14, they could have requested more people from the waiting room.

At this point I'm thinking, OK, I have less than a 1 in 3 chance of being chosen based on the number of people from whom they are selecting. On top of that, I work for a law firm, am related to and friends with lawyers, am 8 months pregnant, and am visibly (and audibly) suffering from a bad cold. I'm the worst of the bad choices, right? How could these people not take pity on me?

When we arrived in the court room, the judge explained to us what was going to happen, and what was expected of us. He then told us the name of the lawsuit and read the charges involved. At that point, it was a little after noon. He decided that he would read the first group of names that they would interview as prospective jurors and have those people come sit in the jury box. I was the third person called. When the jury box was full, he excused everyone to lunch, telling those in the jury box to return after 45 minutes, and the rest of the crowd to return in and hour and a half.

We returned and did our interviews a little while later. It turned out that maybe I wasn't exactly the worst of the bad choices, but I still didn't think I would be selected. I guess I tend to assume that the population at large is living on the right side of the law, but apparently that isn't always the case. I was surprised that 3-4 people of that original group of 14 either currently had lawsuits pending, or didn't know if their lawsuit was still pending. Although, of those pending lawsuits, only one was criminal (apparently the guy had "a whole slew" of charges against him, including criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct). Then, of course, there was the Chinese restaurant owner, who has lived and owned a business in the US for over 20 years, and raised his teen aged children here, who proudly proclaimed that his English was "no very good." That seemed like a convenient excuse to me. But I digress. After interviewing all 14 of us, we were excused for another short break, and would be selected or released upon our return.

I returned with my fingers crossed, but I was the first name selected. The judge explained that the trial would start on Tuesday, and that he hoped it would be wrapped up by Thursday. So, if anybody has been looking for me, that's where I've been all week. Interestingly enough, I don't seem to know of anybody who has actually had to serve on a jury before. I certainly don't know anyone who has had multiple consecutive days of jury duty. So, as much as being an interesting tale, I guess this is also a PSA for what you might expect if you receive a summons for jury duty.

I have to say, I find the trial process interesting. What's kind of annoying is that at this time, we still have not been instructed as to who the alternate jurors are. So, when we go into deliberations tomorrow, 2 people will not be needed. I feel like, at this point, I would be annoyed to find out I was an alternate. I guess I will know tomorrow. And then, when the trial is over, I'll be able to share all the sordid details. Until then, you shall just have to wait with bated breath.