Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jury Duty

Seeing as a few of my fellow bloggers had to deal with this recently, I thought I'd say a bit about it.

I might be repeating a few things that I've said before. When we first got married, my husband and I agreed that neither of us would vote. And neither of us would register to vote. My family tended to vote republican, and his family usually went with the democrats, and if we kept voting that way we would just cancel each other out. And there was no point in doing that, especially since at the time the potential juror list was taken from the list of registered voters.

So after making this decision that should have gotten us out of jury duty for a while, his mother decided that he wasn't old enough to decide such things for himself, and she filled out and mailed in his voter registration card for him. This was especially strange, since at the time she did not mail in her own voter registration card, had no plans to vote or even register to vote herself, and she hadn't voted for anyone or anything in several years. So there is this little card that any idiot can fill out to register to vote, and anybody's mother can fill out the card against her child's wishes, but there is no card to fill out to unregister.

So of course even though he did not vote and did not even register to vote, he was called for jury duty. And he did not work someplace that pays for you to take time off to go to the courthouse. And on top of all that, his job at the time was as a night security guard, and he wasn't normally awake during the Monday through Friday nine to five hours when most of juror duty takes place.

So that was going to be a big hassle no matter what. On the card that one gets in the mail saying you have jury duty, there are a couple of boxes that you can check off and send in the card to get out of jury duty. One of them is that you've been called by mistake and don't live in that county anymore, and that requires you telling where you do actually live so that your name can be added to that place. Another way of getting out of jury duty is that you are older than a certain age. And there are other boxes to check off if you are the primary caregiver of an elderly parent or sick child or something.

There are no boxes to check off if you work for someplace that doesn't pay for time off during jury duty. There are no boxes to check off if this will cause some financial hardship and you will end up taking to a life of crime to make up for the money you'd lose if you had to take time off to be a juror. There are no boxes to check off if you already know that you'll be out of town during that time.

And there are no boxes to check off if you are normally asleep during the day and cannot possibly be awake and alert enough to actually be of any use as a juror.

If you have some problem and cannot be a juror for some reason that there isn't a little box for, you call a number and explain to someone what your problem is. They probably won't do anything about it, but you can call anyway. If you know that you will be out of town or are having surgery that day, they might reschedule, but that's about it. Any other problems you have to go tell it to a judge on that day that you've been called to jury duty.

So my half awake husband had to go to the courthouse, and half awake me felt bad for him and went with him. That first day there were a lot of local politicians handing out buttons and bumper stickers and such, so someone was standing in front of the sign that said only jurors could be in that room, and I went in without knowing that I wasn't allowed to be there. And anyway, at the time we were thinking that we'd only be there for half an hour or so, just long enough to explain the problem and get excused and go home. But you can't talk to the judge when you get there. There's this whole thing of filling out forms and watching videos and getting sworn in and such. And then the judge will listen to anyone who can't serve.

But basically, you really don't get to go home unless you have one of the excuses that there was a box for. Not that you're really older or anything, just that when you got the summons you thought you'd serve anyway, but after having thought about it some you've decided that if being old is an acceptable excuse you might as well use it. Or maybe your elderly parent or sick child wasn't very sick when you got the summons, but the situation is worse now. Or maybe you didn't know that you were going to be out of town, but now you have to get on a plane after lunch. That sort of thing. They still don't care about your financial hardships. They still don't care that you are just barely paying your rent and that missing a week or so of work would make you homeless. This does not get you out of jury duty.

So my husband goes and tells the judge that he works nights and is very tired and isn't going to be awake during the trial, so they should get someone else. That apparently isn't a good enough reason to get out of jury duty. While it is true that he would not be very useful as a juror and the judges and lawyers on both sides should all be glad to be rid of him, he still has to tell each individual judge why he can't serve as a juror on that particular trial. And then they send him back to the waiting room so some he can be selected to serve as a juror on some other trial, and then he has to explain the whole thing all over again to some other judge, who then probably tells him to go back to the waiting room.

You have to do this all day, until you are on a panel that gets the rest of the day off. So that happened right about lunch time. He got on a panel, and he was given some forms to fill out and told to come back the next day.

So the next day we go back with the forms all filled out. My husband worked half a shift that night. He was tired and I was tired, but again we thought that maybe since most of the picking jurors stuff was done on Monday that he'd be able to talk to a judge that would finally let him go home. So we walked to the room were the potential jurors wait, and that's when I found out that I wasn't supposed to be there. So I waited outside for about an hour, and then everyone on that jury panel was given some more forms to fill out and told to go home til nine the next morning. He still didn't get to talk to the judge for that trial.

Wednesday I didn't bother going with him, since I wasn't supposed to be in that room. Again, my husband waits around for a few hours and they fill out some more forms that ask if there is any reason he wouldn't be able to serve as a juror on that trial. Yes, I work nights, and I will be asleep during the whole thing. But I guess no one believes him. The people on the jury panel are given more forms and told to go home for the day.

My husband keeps working while all of this is going on. He worked half a shift on Monday, just cause he happened to be scheduled that way, and the rest of the week he worked eight hours or more each night and then walked into the courthouse half-asleep. They finally let him go that Thursday and paid him like twenty-four dollars for the week. Not that anyone finally had any sense, but just that about half of the people were let go because they'd heard about the trial on TV or had relatives in law enforcement as such as that.

So that was a horrible week, even if he never had to stay at the courthouse past noon, and he never had to hear any of the trial.

Someone decided that getting the list of potential jurors from the voter registration list was a bad idea. They switched to getting people from a list of licensed drivers in the county. Not everyone wants to vote, but almost everyone has to drive. And even if you don't drive you have to go to the place and get an ID card. Getting an ID card also puts you on the list of potential jurors.

About two years after I got married, something went wrong with my car. It cost a lot of money to fix the car, and the car was old and probably not worth the effort. We figured out that my part-time job wasn't doing much other than paying for this car, which I mainly used to go to my part-time job. My husband talked me into giving up my health insurance and not working anymore, and the next time my car needed serious repairs we would just have it hauled away. This later turned out to be a bad idea, but it seemed to make sense at the time.

So a bit after we had my car hauled away, I got a summons for jury duty. And I didn't have a car, and I didn't have much in the way of friends after I quit going to school and quit having a job. The friends that I did have did not live near me. If I went anywhere it was with my husband, or at least, my husband had to drive me if I went anywhere. And so I got this jury summons, and it was for Monday, and at the time my husband worked twelve hours on Monday and had to leave for work at about six in the morning. So I had no way of getting to the courthouse at nine in the morning unless maybe I took a cab, which I have never done because a.) I was scared to get in the car with a total stranger, and b.) I didn't have any money to ride in a cab.

So I called the number on the jury summons card and explained that I didn't have a car and I didn't live anywhere near a bus stop and I didn't have any way of getting to the courthouse on a Monday. Could I have it rescheduled? When did I want it rescheduled? Oh, maybe on a Thursday after one, or anytime on a Friday.

They don't have jury summons on Thursdays and Fridays. The juries are mostly picked on Mondays, and on a busy week also Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But Thursday or Friday was out of the question.

Well, you should just take me off the list until further notice.

I was told that if I didn't report for jury service at nine on Monday morning there would be a warrant issued for my arrest.

Really, they can spare a couple of police officers and a police car to arrest me for not going to the courthouse, but they can't spare that same police car at nine in the morning to give me a ride to the courthouse.

After getting very upset I was told that the courthouse was open long before the trials actually started. Couldn't someone just give me a ride earlier that morning? Of course, but it would be very early, like maybe six or even five-thirty. Would the building be open that early?

I was assured that it would be, and I agreed to be there.

I was lied to. The building was not open. I was left alone in front of the courthouse a hour before the building was unlocked. And while it was not the dead of winter, at five-thirty in the morning it is dark and cold outside.

I walked a couple of blocks away and was lucky to find that the Tandy Center was open. Some of the breakfast places opened at six. I had something to eat and a soda and found someplace to sit and read a book. Later, the library opened, and I got another book.

A bit before nine I headed back to the court house and had my belongs searched. They didn't like me having a pair of scissors and an xacto knife, so they took them away and told me how to get them back at the end of the day. Then I went to the waiting room to fill out forms and watch videos and get sworn in, etc.... Then I waited around til I was selected for a panel, given some forms to fill out, taken to another room, turned in the forms, ran into someone I went to school with, and then told to come back after lunch. After lunch we were asked about this and that and given more forms to fill out. After a long process of being told in really vague terms what the general idea of the case was about, we were asked some more stuff. Some names were called, and mine wasn't one of them. The rest of us were told that we could leave after we'd either picked up our six dollar checks or signed them over to charity. I finally got to leave at almost seven, which was just perfect timing for my husband to get off of work and come get me. I collected my dangerous personal items and left.

Another time I was called, but I had another car then, so there was not so much drama. But I still didn't get picked. I don't ever expect to get picked, but it would be nice if I could figure out how to get on the do not call list and be done with it for good. If I get called now I would have to go to Dallas, and I hate Dallas.

My husband has served a couple of times. Once, they had to decide to have a trial to determine whether or not a woman was nuts. This wasn't a trial to determine if the woman was actually nuts, just some sort of thing that they have do to before that. It took about three hours. Some of the jurors were bothered by the fact that they never actually saw the woman who was supposedly nuts, just a bunch of other people who all said that she was. Another time my husband nearly fell asleep during a trial. This was well after he'd stopped working nights, but the lawyers and the testimony and such were just so boring. He'd pretty much decided that his vote was going to go to whoever was less boring, or maybe to whoever wasted less time. But on Thursday or Friday, when they were about done with the thing anyway, the lawyers reached some agreement and the trial ended without the jurors having to decide anything. My husband thinks that he might actually be on some no call list now because he kept nodding off.

Many years ago I took speech class in college. We had to give two major speeches, but a lot of the class were these other little exercises. One of them we were split into little groups and told stories and then asked to decide who was most at fault. The first group took the assignment very seriously and took about half the class period to figure it all out. Then a second group was told another story, and we watched them decide who was most at fault. The second group didn't take as long as the first one. Each group decided the order of guilt more quickly than the group before. The last two groups figured out that we could probably get out of class and go to lunch early if they didn't take too long, and they hardly had any discussion at all. Like maybe someone suggested an order and the rest agreed to it, and then they were done. This really bothered me at the time. It wasn't a bad exercise, and maybe we could have spent a few days on it. But after everyone figured out that you could get done with it quickly and skip over most of the discussion part, that's what most people did. And that probably happens during juror duty too. People skip over things that should be discussed so that they can go to lunch, or go home for the day, or not have to come back the next week.

Anyway, the whole thing bothers me, and I think that they should change the whole system and have professional jurors. A lot of time and money is wasted trying to find a few suitable people here and there when it could just hire some people who are good at this sort of thing. There are a few people who actually enjoy the process, if only it wouldn't interfere with their jobs. Just go ahead and make being a juror their job and be done with it.


Purple Pigeon said...

Do you really get arrested if you don't turn up for jury duty? It seems a bit extreme! Especially the rigmarole you go through and then don't even get picked.

I agree, there has to be a better system.

laughingattheslut said...

I don't think that you get arrested right away, I think she was just telling me that. I think there's this whole long process of making sure that they have sent the summons to the right place and that you are really in contempt of court and not just having trouble with your mail or something. Of course, since I had already called them they knew it I was getting my mail. They do eventually do something about people who are absent from jury duty without an excuse, but there are so many of them doing that they couldn't just go and arrest all of them. Once in a great while they do this serious bit of business of trying to make an example of people who have warrants out for minor offenses by trying to make them think that they have won something and then arrest people when they go to collect their prizes. Mostly, I think that people are just given fines for not showing up, but again I'm not sure how many people actually end up paying the fines.

Anonymous said...

Depending on what the fine was, it might be worth it to just pay the fine rather than go through the jury duty process.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you can be arrested - especially if you think that your whining and complaining are a valid excuse to get you out of your civic responsibility. "Mommy filled out my voters application" is NOT an excuse. "Gee, I work and I'm tired" is NOT an excuse. Your husband is NOT the only person who works night shift. "One week off from my job and I will be homeless" is NOT an excuse. If you have a job, save your money like the rest of us try to do. Wah, wah, wah!

Anonymous said...