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Jury Duty - Again!
By Joan Whetzel
In the summer of 2010, I was called up for jury duty. I hadn't been invited to jury duty in about 4 years, so I guess I was due. At the time I remember describing it as "a no-expenses-paid day trip into beautiful, downtown Houston." I also remember feeling, at the time, that it was such a major nuisance having to re-arrange my life - making other arrangements for my granddaughter, not being able to write at home for at least that one day, having to either ride the bus or to drive and try and park downtown, sitting in an uncomfortable Jury Assembly Room with no room to write, too many distractions to read, and hanging out with about 500 of my new BFFs.
As you can tell, I was not happy about being reminded of my civic duty. Well, I received another jury summons for Jury duty in January of 2012. This time I wasn't nearly so upset at being called. I still didn't want to go downtown, but I was not anti-jury-duty either. Why not? Well this time, I've begun noticing that I have been spending too much time at home, locked away in front of my computer, reading and writing. I had begun noticing the telltale signs of needing to get out - boredom, cabin fever, staring out the window, looking in my phone book for people to call, cruising the internet instead of writing, cruising Facebook for people to IM with…
A year and a half ago, I really didn't want to be there and neither did most of the other people. When we got to the courtroom for the voir dire, some of the potential jurors became extremely vocal about their displeasure at being invited to the court house. They found as many excuses and opportunities to speak up about why they couldn't serve on this jury and why they should be disqualified from jury service.
It got to the point where it was irritating and more than a little embarrassing to listen to, not just for the defendant, attorneys, and judge but also for the rest of us jurors. Here was this poor guy, on trial for his life, and these people not only let the whole world know how much they had been inconvenienced, but they made a fine art out of it. Those of us who weren't complaining, began distancing ourselves. You could feel the mood in the room change as the non-complainers turned on the malcontents and actually became interested in wanting to serve. None of us wanted to be associated with that level of aggressive selfishness and callousness. I wasn't chosen for that jury, but I, along with many of the other jurors who weren't chosen, would have done so willingly following that voir dire.
With that memory in mind, I went downtown toting my Jury invitation with the express intent of just enjoying a few hours away from my desk and talking to people who were also there for jury duty. Most of the people this time around, wanted to be there. I talked to several people who found the whole experience of serving on a jury interesting and stimulating. When it came time for the voir dire, I found myself interested in hearing what the case was going to be about and wondering what it would be like to be on this jury, deciding this case.
Alas, I was not chosen for this jury either, but as I sit here in front of my computer, I ponder jury duty from a different perspective than I had on my way to the Jury Assembly Room a year and a half earlier. I don't want to be the kind of juror who tries to get out of jury duty with such vehemence that that everyone else in the room rushes to get away from me because that level of selfishness is contagious and poisonous. I want to be the kind of juror who wants to be there, who wants to be fair and impartial, who is willing to see the defendant as innocent until proven guilty and to find that defendant "not guilty" if the evidence points that way. The thought keeps going through my head that if this was someone in my family, I'd want nothing less in the jurors judging the evidence in their case.
The judge in this court case sent a thank you note to all the potential jurors who did not get chosen for the panel. He thanked us for being willing to show up, for taking time out of our lives to simply show up. It was a really nice letter. I wasn't expecting it, but it was nice to be thanked.