Two weeks ago I had to go to jury duty. I was probably the only person in the entire assembly excited about the idea of being on a jury. You could hear grumblings across the room. “I can’t believe I had to take off work to be here.” “We only get $6.00 for today – that barely covers my parking.” The crowd as a whole was not pleased to be there. However, everyone sat patiently waiting for instructions from the television screens scattered around the room. Since I knew how the long the process takes, I was prepared. I brought a newspaper as well as another book to read.
One of the first things which confused me was the fact the instructions to potential jurors were in English, Spanish and then Vietnamese. If you have to understand the English language to sit on a jury, then why do we need instructions in 3 different languages? The next thing that bothered me was the vending machines. A Coke was $1.50 and a bag of chips $1.25. I understand that the cost of groceries has gone up, but shouldn’t the county give the citizens a break when it comes to one of the few pleasures available while waiting for your fate as a juror. The very least they can do it make them under a dollar. A know it’s a petty complaint, but when you only have $6.00 for the day, you hate to spend 1/4 of it on one drink.
As the screens started to display juror numbers to let you know you’ve been assigned to a panel, my heart actually started to beat a little harder. Maybe this will the time that I finally get to sit on a jury and see what it’s like to deliberate. Usually I’m sitting in the courtroom with clients trying to guess what’s going on back in that secret little room. They finally approached my juror number, and then they skipped me. What? How could this be happening? Do they know I’m a trial lawyer? Is it something I put on my juror information sheet? The truth is, I don’t know why they skipped me along with 40 other people. As the hour went past, the jury assembly room was nearly empty. Less than 50 people still remained. I was one of them. Finally, my number flashed across the screen and I had been assigned to a jury panel. I was on my way to Civil County Court at Law number 3.
As the bailiff lined us up, I told the guy next to me that we were likely headed to a car wreck trial. Guess what, I was right. Of the 18 people assigned to the panel, I was number 15. Knowing that each lawyer would get 3 strikes, unless the attorneys were able to strike 3 people ahead of me for cause (for being to biased to sit on the jury) then there was no chance I was getting selected on this jury. As we approached the courtroom, the bailiff lined us up in numerical order. It was like being in elementary school again preparing for a fire drill. We were then escorted into the courtroom. It was interesting to have everyone stand as we entered the room. A sign of respect for the potential jurors as well as the process. As I looked around the room, I realized that I recognized several people. Do I say something? Do I wait to be asked? I decided to just sit back and be quiet. I’ll wait for the judge’s instructions.
The judge proceeded to give a short, yet convoluted explanation about the purpose of voir dire. I don’t think anyone on the panel knew what she was talking about. She then explained that each attorney would get 10 minutes to question the panel. 10 MINUTES! ARE YOU KIDDING? As a trial lawyer I was shocked to hear this. How can anyone conduct an effective voir dire in 10 minutes? You can barely find out the name of someone’s spouse in 10 minutes. Much less find out if they can award damages for injuries you client has suffered. Hearing this, I’ve decided not to file any more cases in county court. After each lawyer used their 10 minutes, I knew that there was no way I could be on this panel. There was no one who could arguably be struck for cause. Another trip for jury service, and another day without sitting on a jury.
As I left the courthouse and proceeded back to work, I was pleased that I was a part of the process. However, I definitely believe potential jurors should be more informed on how the process works. Without knowing the intricacies from being on the other side of the bar, you merely feel that you are a sheep in a giant heard not sure if you’re headed to the slaughter house. At the end of the day, I was impressed with the attitudes of the rest of the potential jurors. Although and inconvenience for many, by the end of the day, I think most understood the importance of participating in the process. The greatest process in the world.