Today, I have taken a day off work to do my civic duty and sit around in a room with a hundred or so other people who were also too stupid to get out of jury duty. Keep that in mind when you consider that whole jury of your peers providing the best possible carriage of justice plan inherent in our legal system.

The last time I reported for jury duty, I stood in line next to a woman who told me that she’d lived in the area for forty years and this was the very first time she was notified for jury service. Not just the first time she had to serve on a jury, mind you, but the first time she’d EVER gotten one of those letters in the mail that told you you have to call after six the night before to see if you have to come in. Since I’ve lived in this county, which has been a hair over a decade, I’ve been notified for jury service five times. FIVE TIMES. This is the second time I’ve had to physically go in. I realize if you don’t actually have to report, they put your name back in the pool, but FIVE TIMES? That seems even a tad excessive, even for my brand of karma.

I’ve never been one of those reluctant, “don’t want to serve in any way, shape or form” type of jurors. I really do believe it’s part of my civic duty. To boot, I think it’s also interesting to see and observe the process. But now that I have two children, oh how I understand the protests I’ve heard over the years. That $15 doesn’t even come CLOSE to making up for the disruption to my schedule and pain-in-the-assedness of having to be available all day on a week day but only if they tell you at the last moment they need you. For one, my child who is in preschool doesn’t have a regular preschool spot on Thursdays. That’s when I’m usually home with her so if I need her to be at school that day, I have to cross my fingers that there's a spot available and they're not at capacity. So I a) had to arrange with the preschool for her to be there today (but not, if I didn’t get called and I wouldn’t know if I were called or not until after the preschool closed on the previous day - and let me tell you, preschools are always thrilled with the “I might bring her, I might not“ plan.) and b) I had to pay extra for this day of unscheduled preschool.

The Dormouse is in school, and while you might thing that makes it easier, it actually complicates matters more. She doesn’t get on the bus until 8:10 am and gets home about 3:30 pm, but I have to report to the courthouse by 7:30 am and plan to be there until at least 5:00 pm - unless they decide to cut me loose before then but you don‘t get to know that until oh, about three minutes after they decide. So now I have to arrange and pay for before and after care for The Dormouse and work out a way for her to get to and from the school and the aftercare plan. I’m fortunate that where The Caterpillar goes to preschool, there is also a before and after care option for school-age kids. Doubly fortunate that they let me keep The Dormouse on the roles as a drop-in even though we don’t use the services. But it ain't cheap and DUUUDE, if I didn’t have that option, I would be scah-rewed because I have no friends or family in the area who would take her for me. Caring for children is not one of the reasons you get to opt out of jury service here. But dammit, it should be.

I am fortunate that I work on salary and my work provides leave for this type of thing. But many of the people among whom I’m sitting now are paid by the hour and are simply not getting paid today. So add to the expense of finding child care, the fact that many of them will lose a day’s wages as well.

I am also fortunate that I have a working vehicle. Many who live in my area rely solely on public transportation to get from place to place. As I left the house this morning at 6:00 am, braved the beltway traffic and then drove ten miles down a dark road where I didn’t see a single bus to a place that I’m quite sure doesn’t have a metro station near, and as I remembered that there were no directions to the courthouse using public transportation on the form I received, I was grateful for my car and keenly aware that many people had to get up way earlier than I did to get here. I am also grateful for run-on sentences so that this paragraph might come to be.

All that has gone to give me a new perspective on why people hate jury duty so much. And I have to say, I totally get it now. I think there would be a lot less trying to get out of it if they’d find a better process. Schedule it during school hours or half days or something. This can’t be the only option.

I figure after all is said and done and they’ve paid me the piddly $15, I’ll be about $75 in the hole but I‘m probably better off than about 50% of the people in this room. In the end, I donated my juror compensation to a charity because what's $15 more in a sea of cost and aggravation? If I get assigned to a trial that lasts more than an afternoon, I could be doing this all over again tomorrow. So thanks Civic Duty. Now go tell the next person to bend over.

When I got on the shuttle from the parking lot this morning, a woman sat down next to me and asked if I was going to jury duty too. I answered and then she announced, “You don’t know how much I didn’t want to come here today. I got my period for the first time in three years.” So I guess everybody has their issues.

The last time I reported for jury duty, I stayed all day, got picked for a trial and was in line to walk into the trial room when there was a last minute settlement and they sent us all home. It was the single most wasted day of my life but I was happy to do it because this was back before The Dormouse and I could sit around in a room and read a book without anyone interrupting me to ask me how to make something bold on their computer.

It does give you a lot of time to think though:

  • I'm pretty sure that clerk was here the last time I came in for jury duty.
  • I am not allowed to bring an iPod to the courthouse because it is a "signal receiving device" but I am allowed to bring my mobile phone and laptop as long as I am aware that I'm not to use either during the trial. Wait, huh? Couldn't I just also promise not to use my iPod during a trial?
  • Courthouses should provide a stronger wi-fi signal in the jury assembly room. Also: more outlets.
  • I know that my name(s) aren't that easy to spell or even pronounce for everyone, but some people have some really weird-ass names. I'm lookin' at you, guy-who's-legal-first-name-is-three-random-letters.
  • I'm pretty sure Stephen J. Cannell is also serving as a juror today. Who knew he lived in my county?
  • The entertainment value of people watching in the mall doesn't even compare to people watching in the courthouse.

The only time I was ever actually picked for a jury trial was while I was living in another state. During the selection process, there was a great deal of questioning us prospective jurors about whether we drank alcohol to excess or at all. I sat patiently through the “how often do you drink alcohol” questions, through the “how much do you drink when you do drink” questions, to the “do you think being intoxicated is a valid excuse for committing a crime” questions. And finally, in a display of logic I have yet to come to comprehend or understand, they put the tea-totaling Mormon on the jury. You'll see why that's funny in a minute.

The case was one in which two twenty-something guys had broken the windows of a store, cut themselves in the process, left blood evidence and fingerprints all over the place and stolen the cash register with all the money inside. Their defense was not that it wasn’t them, or that they were framed, that the evidence was compromised, the fingerprints were smudged, nor was it that they were simply just not guilty. No no. Their lawyer’s defense was brilliant in its craftiness. “They’re not responsible because they were so drunk, they didn’t know WHAT they were doing.” I think you can probably guess how that worked out for them.

After the trial, I happened to be in the elevator with the defense attorney and a couple of other jurors and he said, “Yeah, I wasn’t really surprised at all by your verdict, but… eh. What're ya gonna do?” At that very moment I made a mental note of the guy’s name and vowed that if I ever found myself under suspicion of a crime I did not commit, that he would be the last person I’d call.

My other memorable courthouse experience involved The KoH and I getting a marriage license. We had The KnaveofHearts in tow that day and brought him with us to apply for the court document. As we were heading into the building we had to pass through the familiar panel of metal detectors and bored security guards. Then six year old KnaveofHearts and I went first. We got through the entire process, had all the toys brought to entertain me a six year old scanned and inspected and then The KoH walked through. He was stopped because he had a three inch penknife in his pocket. They wouldn’t let him bring it in and they wouldn’t stash it for us, so we all had to go back through security, put the knife in the car and do it all over again. The KoH grumbled and muttered the whole way about how it was an unreasonable measure and you couldn’t kill anyone with a penknife and how (at the time) you could fly on an airplane with a knife a couple of inches larger than this so this seemed excessive to him and what was the big deal?

By the time we got our marriage license, it was sneaking up on lunchtime so we opted to stop in the courthouse cafeteria before we left and feed the boy. While we were sitting there, a middle-aged gentleman sat in light brown suit with a lawyer-type looking woman at the table across from us. They were pouring over some papers and talking. While I sat there eating my French fries, I watched another middle-aged woman in a skirt and suit jacket with a giant silk bow at her throat walk up to them. She stood quietly next to them until he noticed her and looked up. Then she slowly took her purse off her shoulder and... began to beat the man with it. He threw up his arms to protect his face as the woman she came in with yelled at her to stop over and over. The lawyer-type person, simply backed away. Figures. Security started to gather from the front door. The woman flinging her purse around and shouting obscenities saw them coming and immediately stopped, put her purse back on her shoulder, straightened her jacket and turned on her heels to her companion. “Now I’ll sign,” she announced and calmly and coolly left the cafeteria with her head held high.

As we left the building, The KoH stopped the security guard he’d given a hard time to (who’d responded to the cafeteria incident) and apologized for arguing with him about the knife. “I guess I get it now.”

The security guard laughed.

KoH: “Does that kind of thing happen often here?”

Guard: “Every. Single. Day.”