You recently received The Letter summoning you to your local courthouse for possible jury duty. You are horrified. Why me? I’m so busy at work, with my children, with my girlfriend/boyfriend, with my many, many “fill in the blank” activities. What if I have to serve on one of those endless cases for weeks and weeks? I just can’t do it.
This is a normal reaction. On the one hand you understand that it’s your duty as a good citizen to make our American justice system work by showing up for possible jury duty. On the other hand, it’s just so personally inconvenient!
If you have a legitimate reason for wanting to delay your inevitable turn at jury service, you are allowed to request excusal. But be forewarned, it’s only a postponement, not an escape. The Letter will be in your mailbox again all too soon.
You have no vacation plans, no surgery scheduled for that date, no carpools you can’t shift to someone else, or meetings you can’t miss. This is the time to go and see what it’s all about. I’ll share the results of my own recent tour of jury duty in Hillsborough County so you’ll know what to expect.
On a recent Monday, I headed to the Hillsborough County courthouse, arriving around 7:40 a.m. to allow time for parking before reporting to the courthouse at 8 a.m. —- my first big mistake. The line of cars waiting to enter the nearby parking garage was blocks long! Realizing I wouldn’t be the only prospective juror to be late was only a little comforting.
By 8:15, I was through the courthouse security line and entering the jury waiting room on the second floor. Told that nothing would be getting started until around 8:30, I ducked out to the adjacent coffee bar for a quick cup of coffee. That was my second mistake. The jury waiting room doors were locked when I tried to return, and I was told it would be at least another 15 to 20 minutes before the doors would reopen.
When I was finally admitted back in to the very large jury waiting room, I took a deep, sad breath thinking about sitting in this big, busy, noisy room all day waiting to be called as a juror. I brought a book and some snacks, but the long wait still seemed very uninviting to me.
About two minutes later, I heard my name being called. Someone must have read my mind — I was in the first group being called. I was led out of the jury waiting room along with my fifteen or so fellow potential jury picks by a friendly bailiff. He took us to the criminal courtrooms and asked us to stay in a waiting area outside a courtroom until we were called. Only a few minutes later, the same bailiff led us into the courtroom. So far, the morning was moving much more quickly than I had anticipated.
I’ll finish my jury duty story in my next blog. For now, I will close with the thought that my jury duty experience turned out to be a very positive one. My law practice focuses on family law, dependency, and social security matters that do not involve jury trials, so it was an eye-opening experience to participate in the jury process.