Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jury duty: an unexpectedly pleasant experience

There was no blog post yesterday because I had jury duty for the first time ever. I've been summoned three times; the first and second time I was excused because I was the stay-at-home parent of children too young to be left alone legally. Texas is awesome that way.

The third time I was assigned to a judge who was in the process of presiding over a terrible criminal case involving funeral home fraud. I got an email telling me I didn't have to show up, because that case was still ongoing and no new jury would be seated in that courtroom until that case was concluded. I was quite happy to be excused, and even happier that my jury duty hadn't come up in time to be on that case's jury, because I had read enough about the original arrest of the defendant in the local news to find the whole thing pretty horrible.

So yesterday was the first time I had to show up in person. By signing up ahead of time and filling out the paperwork online I was assigned to a courtroom instead of having to go to a central jury room, which was good--and even better, I was assigned to the beautiful historic courthouse, which was amazing to see. I didn't take any pictures while I was waiting with the other potential jurors because I didn't want to capture someone's face inadvertently, but any pictures I would have taken wouldn't have looked this good anyway.

Obviously it would be a bad idea to blog about too many of the specifics, for the sake of the civil case that for all I know could still be ongoing. I can say that I was with a group of 18 people and my assigned number was 17, so I knew all morning that my odds of being picked for a six-person jury in a civil case were pretty slim. And, eventually, that was how it turned out; I did not end up on a jury. Still, as some of my fellow jurors agreed, courthouses have their own sense of time, like hospitals or airports: we showed up at 8:30, got signed in, got ready...and waited. And waited. And waited. The case just ahead of ours was continuing (probably from the previous week, but I didn't ask) and didn't finish until quite late in the morning. Then we had the voir dire process (which is pronounced differently in Texas than I had ever heard it before!) and by just before 1 p.m. the final selection of the six-member jury had taken place. The new jurors along with the judge, attorneys, and plaintiff and defendant were going to break for lunch before starting the case, but the rest of us were dismissed.

I was surprised by how pleasant an experience the whole thing was. The bailiff was a very nice older gentleman who was good at making sure we knew what we were doing and putting everyone at ease; the judge took the time to come out of the courtroom, introduce himself, and set a tone that was engaging without losing sight of the seriousness of what the eventual jurors would be asked to do; the lawyers as they asked the jurors their questions were professional, courteous, and very willing to explain what they meant if anyone happened to be confused by a question; and my fellow jurors were all attentive and focused and seemingly quite willing to be there and do what needed to be done.

From what I hear, it will be a while before my name comes up again on the list of potential jurors, but after my experience yesterday I think I wouldn't even mind serving on a jury, especially if I were lucky enough to be assigned to a courtroom in the historic courthouse again. It ended up being quite a nice way to spend a lovely spring morning in Texas.