Monday, May 04, 2009

Jury Duty: Day 1

I was going to wait 'til the end of the week to post my experience but that would be one loooooonnnnnggggg post so I thought I would break it up day by day.

So, first lesson here: Be careful what you wish for.

My last jury summons was when I was in college. My permanent residence was still Leavenworth, yet I was 3 hours away in Southern Missouri. So I was excused from appearing at that time.

Little did I know thirteen years would go by before I got another summons. Jury Duty has always intrigued me. It is an experience most people have had and I was curious. The last thing most people want to get in the mail is a jury summons and I couldn't understand why.

So I showed up today totally not knowing what to expect. There were a bazillion people gathered in the "holding room". (Ok, more like 200 people). I was already feeling anxious because I had to park in a parking garage. I hate parking garages. I have convinced myself that Kansas will suffer a catastrophic earthquake at the precise moment I am in a parking garage. And this thought disturbs me.

There were so many things I had running through my head that I wanted to put on here but I didn't think the judge would appreciate me calling a recess just to work on my blog. I will try to keep my summary as brief as possible...which is more than I can say for the witness who took the stand today. Geez.

Basically I was moved to a courtroom with about 35 people. While the judge was going through reasons why people thought they should be excused (no childcare, wife is 9 1/2 months pregnant...etc) one grandma raised her hand and said her son had the flu, his wife was out of town, and they needed her to help take care of their two small kids.

Shortly after that we had a break. When we came back into the courtroom the judge made this announcement, "You all can rest assured...I dismissed the lady who stated her son had the flu. As soon as she said that I could see all of you squirming uncomfortably in your seats and knew your minds would not be on the case at hand after hearing that. So she's gone. And she assured me she has not been in contact with her son since his diagnosis".

Great. I could check DO NOT CONTRACT SWINE FLU off my list for the day.

They drew 21 random names out of a box. I was the 20th name called. So I was on the front row, about a foot from where the lawyers were sitting. (Another anxiety producing situation for me). They went through their questions. I only raised my hand on a few. Then they called out the names of the ones who were dismissed. My name was not called. The judge then instructed us where to sit and I discovered that I was the alternate juror. (More on this to come). The judge looked directly at me and said, "Miss Hollaway, I will be sure you have a more comfortable chair when you return". WOW! He already knew my name...and he was concerned for my cool was that?

Sure enough, after our next break, there was a more comfy chair waiting for me. I am getting a big head this week because each time the jury enters the courtroom everybody has to stand for us. Totally. Awesome.

No time was wasted. When we came back in as a group and sat down the trial started! I didn't even have time to call my mom or David to tell them I was picked.

So back to the "alternate juror" deal. I have decided that it is both cool...and not so cool. It's not so cool because I have to sit through this entire trial, taking diligent notes, yet get no say whatsoever in the outcome. Not to mention the other jurors refer to me simply as "the alternate" like I am a big loser.

However, it's also a cool gig because I could totally see myself being the only person to disagree with everyone else when it came time to reach a verdict. And I wouldn't have a strong enough personality to plead my case and defend my views in that situation so I would probably just say, "Whatever you guys think".

I did discover that in a civil case, the decision doesn't have to be unanimous so I may have been ok anyway. (I am actually learning a lot about law and the judicial system as a bonus along the way).

The kids are kind of confused about why I have to be gone all week. I tried to explain to Reese that I was going to court to see if I would be picked to decide if other people had misbehaved or not. When I returned home with my large button saying JUROR in bright blue letters she excitedly said, "You got it!!" like I had just won a huge prize.

I have decided that jury duty is as much fun to me for people watching as airports are. I love watching the dynamics of strangers all coming together and slowly start interacting with those around them.

To wrap this up here are just a few observations I've had my first day:

- The court reporter can continue typing even with her eyes half closed

- Jury selection felt a little bit like grade school kickball team selection

- I have been working on my nonexistent poker face for the lawyers and their clients who stare at us the entire time trying to read our reactions to whomever is on the stand

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