Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Last week I had jury duty. Spoiler--I was not picked to be on a jury.  Still, I had to wake up very early (for me), drive downtown, be in a specific place for the whole workday and wait to see if I got an assignment. (It used to be easy to get out of jury duty, but when Los Angeles adopted the "one day, one case" rule they no longer allowed most excuses, and thus--I'm told--it's not unusual for the occasional Tom Hanks or Jack Nicholson to be in the jury pool.)

Every April 15th we're reminded of the long arm of government reaching into our pockets, but jury duty reminds you that they can also take you physically and decide what you should be doing for a day or longer.

Not that I'm complaining (exactly).  Certainly it's nothing next to the draft, which we no longer have (though many politicians long to return to it in one form or another--don't vote for these people).  And it's certainly not an onerous duty.  In fact, if you have nothing else to do, jury duty can be pretty stimulating.  It's even a power trip for some, if they've got the wrong attitude.

Still, no one I know looks forward to it.  I got my summons about a month ago and it is like getting a (mini-) draft notice.  You're told what week you have to serve. You call in the night before to see if you have to come in the next day.  I was hoping to be called early in the week so I could get it over with, rather than have it hang over my head.

So I phoned to check on Monday.  Not called.  Then I didn't have to come in on Tuesday.  Or Wednesday.  At this point my strategy changed.  There's no guarantee you'll be called to serve, so with only two days left I'm hoping I may not have to go in at all.

I check for Thursday and, once again, they don't need me.  Excellent. Just one more day.  I can smell my freedom.  So I call in Thursday night and...well, I've already given away the punch line.  Not only did they burst my balloon, they picked the worst day possible--in my mind I'd already given up the week, so if I came in Monday and Tuesday and caught a case, I still might be out by the end of the week.  But if I'm put on a jury on Friday, that means a whole 'nother week is gone.

Once I was in the jury room, the process was pretty nerve-wracking.  Each time the PA announced a bunch of names, I felt queasy.  Turns out I wasn't even sent to a courtroom.  That's only the beginning, of course, since there might be a plea or settlement just before the jury is chosen (not uncommon, since that's when people realize how serious the situation is) and, of course, you might be kicked out during voir dire (though they seem to have changed how things are done so that fewer people are rejected than they used to).

When, late in the day, they announced we were free to go, it felt like being a kid at the end of the school year. 

Just a couple questions, though.  First, I understand trial by jury is a right citizens of the U.S. enjoy.  But we've got an all-volunteer army.  Would it be that hard to have all-volunteer juries?

Second, I've heard peace officers aren't required to serve on juries.  I also seem to recall there was a time attorneys--officers of the court--weren't put on juries.  As a lawyer myself, I think it's time we return to this noble tradition.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

You're lucky. Same thing happened to me.

Except we don't get to call in.

I spent a week sitting in a room reading and watching Tom Hanks movies (would be juries get to vote on what they'll watch) and never made it into the courtroom once. I was disappointed that I never got to say, "Yes, I'm an attorney, and I'll run riot in the jury room, I'll tell you that much."

3:08 AM, August 16, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I have jury duty coming up in the next few months (thanks for the reminder, I have to go check what date I agreed to). Its been a while for me though I do recall being called 3 separate times from the early 90s to the early 00s. I kind of viewed as mini-vacations from busy workdays (sitting in a quiet courthouse all day was preferable to time spent with inlaws in my estimation) I have read close to entire books during those times - I think one of Cheever's Wapshot books and a new Harry Potter book another. I recall overdrinking at lunch during one ( I was young big firm associate and I considered it a welcome day off) where I met someone who claimed to be an ex-NFL player who said he knew Bryant Gumbel (that was important for some reason) and had a great investment opportunity for me (I slipped off when he went to the toilet). Thankfully I was not called for voir dire during the afternoon session.

My last time- first time in the suburban location, I had an out- it was a criminal case involving a town with which I had just had protracted sometimes unpleasant intergovernmental negotiations with. They resulted in the mayor of said burg sending an armed peace officer to my office to obtain my signature on the final document. I had a ready answer to the question of whether I thought I could objectively participate in a case involving the so-and-so PD but amazingly while they called 13 of the 15 panels for voir dire, they never got to mine and so I got to read JK Rowling in peace and go home. (Maybe the court officers looked at the angry dude with the big Potter book and shook their heads)

We shall see what new adventures await this fall

5:49 AM, August 16, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happens if the would-be jury can't decide what film to watch? Do they call it a mistrial and bring in a new would-be jury?

10:38 AM, August 16, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

It's my understanding--in Los Angeles, at least--that judges have a lot less patience with voir dire answers designed to get people off juries. So if you tried that gag with them, ColumbusGuy, they'd probably assign you to the case to see what happens.

New England Guy may see it as a mini-vacation, but if you're a lawyer doesn't the work just pile up while you're away?

And that mini can become maxi. An important question you have to answer on your form is how many days of jury duty does your employer pay for. The first time a panel was called when I was there, they explained it was a major criminal case that would take over a month. Then they only called people who could do that without financial hardship.

11:10 AM, August 16, 2016  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

How does financial hardship apply to you rich people, though? Must be a legal term of art.

1:47 PM, August 16, 2016  
Anonymous New England Guy said...

It actually was a financial hardship for my client, the first time I was called. I had already deferred the date for the maximum 1 year and my time came due in the middle of big deal that closing (back in 1990- lots of guys with yellow ties and whatnot) The partner instructed me not to go so I called the jury commissioner to see if there was any sort of way out. They said no but then informed me that arrest warrants weren't issued until you were 2 weeks overdue. So I went as a volunteer juror 13 days late and apparently that worked (or else I have been unknowingly on the lam for 26 years)

5:42 PM, August 16, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I hope you haven't outed yourself. Come to think of it, I may still be on the run from some parking tickets in Chicago.

6:11 PM, August 16, 2016  

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