Civic Duty: The Jury Duty Blog Post

Here in NJ they can call you every three years for 2 days or one trial.  This was MY year.  And this is MY story.

Day 1:

Driving to the courthouse for jury duty stresses me out.  I think my drive to work is bad; this makes it look like cake (and it's not cake!)  Driving directly into the sun (like on work drive), but on a more crowded road where everyone is trying to get onto the GSP or the NJ Turnpike.  I put the address into Waze that the court website tells you to and it tries to send me some bizarro way.  I think sticking with the highway is best, so I tell it to take me to juror parking and Cookie Monster (my Waze voice) does a very nice job of getting me there, except that the final turn (which USED to be the turn that took you to the lot) is now closed.  (The street is permanently blocked off).  But being the intelligent woman that I am I just continue down the street, make a right and then another right and voila, I'm in the lot.  Of course jurors no longer park in the lot, they park in the "new" (at least to me) parking garage/deck.  I'm early enough to get a spot between level 1 and 2 (on the slope).

I walk over to the court building, go through security and up the stairs to the juror area and check in before the assigned time of 8:15.  (I gave myself an hour for the less than 10 mile trip and I NEEDED it.)  After taking a bathroom break, I go sit in room A (as assigned) which is not packed, but is quite full with people looking at their phones or staring blindly into space.  (Can you blame them?)

Just before 9 a judge came in a said her piece, thanking us for our service.  Then we had the jury duty DVD (yes, it IS a DVD) which I think I remembered from my last visit and then one of the clerks came in and gave us instructions.  (As an aside, there was one male clerk who was hysterical.  With every announcement, he lightened the mood of the place.  I don't know his name, but I do know that everyone loved him and he made the day much more tolerable.  If you know his name or who I mean, let him know that this lady will not forget him and thanks him!)  Then we were free to move to any area in the jury section.

I chose the computer section, even though I did not have my laptop.  I thought the chairs might be more comfortable (they were) and I could write and read in peace. (I could.)  But I didn't know how COLD it would be.  So after an hour and a half, I went back to room A (aka HGTV room.  Room B was ESPN and Room C was CNN.)  I'm not a big HGTV fan, but watching Flea Market Flip is somewhat tolerable (especially when the smug flippers lose).  

At 10:20 the first round was called.  Must have been at least 80 names.  But mine was not one of them.  At 11:10 the second round was called.  Not so many names this time, but still a lot and still not mine.

At 11:40 we were told to go to lunch until 1:30.  Now a nearly two hour lunch would be great if I had somewhere to go or something to do.  (There's only so much HGTVing I can do).  So I sat outside and ate and read and tried to revel in the warm sunshine.  Was back at HGTV before 1:30 and around 2:00 they called group number 3.  Still nothing for me.

Then around 2:40 the announcement came that we could go home, BUT we had to be back the next day at 9:30.  The hoards rushed out.  (Even before the announcement was finished.)  I didn't rush, but I did go fast.  Not fast enough however, as the line of cars trying to get out of the garage kept me blocked into my parking space for a good 15 minutes.  The drive home was not great as (A) Cookie Monster (Waze) stopped being Cookie Monster (it was a limited time voice and I loved every minute) and (B) the schools had just gotten out so there were kids and busses and a heck of a lot of traffic until I got back on the highway.

Thus ends Day 1.

Day 2:

To get to the courthouse by 9:30, I left by 8:30.  Traffic was a little less obnoxious and I switched my Waze "voice" to boy band which is not as cool as Cookie Monster, but...The parking deck was quite congested and I ended up on the top tier.  Not a problem for a sunny day, but if it had been raining...

Walked down 3 flights of stairs, over to security, up a flight to the jury area, checked in and parking validated all before 9:30.  As I was not yet allowed in room A or B, I headed back to the computer area.  It was good timing, as in the next half hour or so it was standing room just about everywhere.  I've never seen the place so packed.  It was crawling with jurors!

By 10:20 we were allowed to move wherever we wanted in the area, so after a restroom stop, I headed back to watch some HGTV (Beach Front Bargain Hunt).  At 10:25 they called the first round of 90 people!  Wow!  That lessened the room load a lot.

10:40:  80 people were called and I was one of them!  Finally an opportunity to actually DO something!  We pack into several elevators and head up to the 12th floor.  We wait outside the assigned room, as a court officer had popped his head out and told us to wait.  Then he came out again to make sure we were all there.  (The floor was pretty crowded.)  Then we waited.  And waited some more.  Until finally another officer came out and said the judge was going to come out and speak to us.  That was a little different to say the least!

Judge R comes out and in a nutshell says that they are having technical issues and that it should be fixed shortly.  Of course that's the nutshell version.  The actual version went on for several minutes as he told us what he'd want to know if he were us and the importance of our service and time and that his short time might be different than ours, but he was thinking 23 minutes.  (That's right 23; not 20 or 25). So I'm thinking this guy is a little off, but...he's the we stand out there and wait and wait...

Finally around 11:25 we are allowed into the courtroom. I was one of the first in and because it was going to be tight room wise, the first people in sat in the jury box and then every seat was filled in. (Which also took a couple of minutes.)

The judge then rehashes what we learned in the video.  Tells us that we don't need to questionnaire in front of us yet.  Explains that this is real life and not a tv series that we all love like CSI:  Miami or NCIS or Law and Order or The Wire or Starsky and Hutch or Kojak or Columbo.  (There might have been more on his list.)  This is a real courtroom and he is not Judge Judy.

Well, it was real life, but it seemed to me that he was starring in a drama of his own making, where he was writer, director and star.  The longer he went on (and he went on for quite a while), the more he sounded like a Jon Lovitz character.  (Dating myself, but remember when he was on SNL:  think of a combination of Annoying Man and Master Thespian and you kind of get an idea of what I'm talking about.)  He introduces the attorneys in the case and lets us know the charges involved.  (There were quite a few; the biggie being MURDER.)  He then tells us that the case is estimated to last until the week of NOVEMBER 4th.  (That took the wind out of my sails.)  However, he said that court would not be in session most Mondays and Fridays and then listed another set of dates when we would not be needed.

Finally, we got down to the packet of questions, which must have been 10 pages long.  The Judge says he will go over the first 20 questions with us.  (And there were a lot more than 20 questions.)  He would read the question, give an explanation if he felt it was necessary (and he liked to give his input) and would then have you raise your hand if you would answer yes to the question.  Then, one by one, he would going around and point to a person who had their hand up.  He instructed us to say our last name and then "starts with _” (i.e.  Smith, starts with S).  You were NOT to give your first name or say your first initial.  These were simple instructions and he expected us to follow them and if we couldn't do that we were not doing our civic duty.  (Or something like that; it seemed to me that everything he said or did was like a bad Shakespearean performance.)

Question by question he went, reading each out loud and then people would raise their hands.   If you raised your hand for one question, you did not have to do it again for another.  (One of the jurors was reprimanded for that) I take this responsibility very seriously and I like to think I can be impartial and fair.  I have served as a juror before on a couple of trials and am proud of that.  I have NEVER requested to be released from a jury.  I have been thanked and not been empaneled, but once in that courtroom I have always been all in.  And I wanted to be this way again even as the judge went on and on with the questions.  The one about viewing photos of the deceased and blood and how it might influence me was tough.  As was the one on police testimony.  But I DO believe in innocent until proven guilty.  What was getting hard was listening to the judge.  His dramatic monologues were stressing me out.

He gets to question 15, which is about extreme hardship.  It's nearly 12:30 by now.  He goes over what extreme hardship is and is not. How extreme hardship is what our troops experience while serving.  That extreme hardship would mean not having enough money because our company would not pay us for jury duty and having no savings to pay for the rent so we would be out on the street.  Or caring for someone who would not live without our care.  He reminds us that extreme hardship is not an inconvenience and that we live in a country where we have trial by a jury of our peers and a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

I am stressed to the max by this time.  I honestly think that I will not be able to be an impartial juror because this man is making me so tense.  He asks if anyone can say yes and I raise my hand and so do a lot of people.  He starts pointing, but then stops and asks people to stand if he says their last name.  He then recites the names of all the people who have said yes to previous questions.  When he is finished, he thanks them for their service and sends them back to the jury pool. 

After they have left, he asks for us again to raise our hands if we would say yes.  I raised my hand.  I was prepared to answer the question, why it was a hardship, by saying that it wasn't one thing, but multiple things that made it a hardship.  A long time away from work when I was the only source of income would be a hardship; having older parents who need my help and not being able to help them would be a hardship; and that along with some other things would raise my stress level to such a point that I would be unable to be the juror that would be completely focused.  I didn't want to say that he stressed me so much that I felt I might have a breakdown before the trial was over.  (And I don't say that lightly!)

We didn't have to state our hardship however. He read our names out loud and then dismissed us back to the jury pool.  As I left the room, I thought there MIGHT be 12 people (out of the 80 called) remaining, but they hadn't even finished the first part of questioning!

On the elevator ride down, most of us admitted that we had never seen anything like what he had just seen.  And several of us had served on juries before.  Many felt that the judge was in a play of his own making.

It was after one by the time I checked back at the desk. I knew the lunch was generally from 12:00 - 1:30, so I thought I would just get a short one.  I was wrong, they scanned my juror card and thanked me for my service.  My two days were over: I could go home.

I have to admit, I was a bit shaky on the way.  The judge's manner and expression really made me uncomfortable and caused me a great deal of stress.  It took me a couple of hours at home before I felt like I was back to "being me."  (Does that make sense at all?)

But now I am good for another 3 years.  And when called (and I WILL be called) I will go back and serve again.  But if it's Judge R...


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