I love jury duty.
Now, lest you immediately dismiss me as just off my rocker, (expecting next to hear "I love root canals" or possibly "I love sitting through interminably long staff meetings"), let me elaborate. It's not that I love the arcane and archaic system that plods on, miraculously unquestioned, at the Civil Courts Building on Tucker. It seems, to my admittedly untrained eye, a process fraught with inefficiencies at every turn: you get a summons in the mail; you have to complete and mail in a card to tell them that you are alive and whether you're a city employee and whether you've been on a jury before; and if you want to beg off for one reason or another, you have to request it in writing by a given date, and (this is the part that really gets me), if you don't hear from them, you can assume it's fine not to show up. Does anyone out there really have enough confidence in the processes of city government to not think that maybe you've fallen through the cracks and will actually be prosecuted for not serving jury duty when called?
That's not the part I love. I love the actual day, when hundreds of bleary-eyed citizens slog up the steps and into the hallowed Civil Courts halls, make their way through the indignities of an aging metal detector, and gather inside the jury room to begin the long hours of waiting. And waiting. And waiting, for their chance to administer justice.
I enjoy the jury experience in the same way that I enjoy whiling away hours at a faceless airport somewhere, making the best of enforced downtime by watching the infinitely interesting lives of the people around me. While everyone in my office groaned when I told them I'd been called for jury duty ("You can just write and tell them you work for a magazine and have an important deadline, and you'll be released," some advised), I immediately thought, "Ooh! Day off! And a chance to catch up on my magazine reading, letter writing, list making...and to put my finely honed television-justice skills to work!"
Anything to justify the hours I've spent watching "Law and Order," where each important turn in a case is marked by a resonant "thump, thump" of deep percussion, giving the alert viewer cues to pay attention, much like those kids' books and accompanying records (probably CDs, now) where Tinkerbell's fairy trill told you it was time to turn the page. I know every trick in the book, from what constitutes a Fourth Amendment/illegal search violation to when the rules of privileged conversation may be overturned. Sadly, I never got the chance to use all that.
Instead, I spent the first day in the long expanse of the jury gathering room, where the morning finally got underway with an oddly compelling short film, "You, the Juror," starring TV's own Julius Hunter. Mr. Hunter somberly explained the entire foundation of the American justice system and the legal system's role in upholding our democracy. He said that sometimes, we might spend a goodly amount of time waiting to be called and for whatever reason (cases settle, they just don't need all the people they thought, whatever), we would not be given the chance to serve on a jury. "In that case," he continued, "you may feel that your time has been wasted." Laughter started in the back of the room and rolled forward, row by row. These folks had clearly done this a time or two before. I looked up at the screen; Julius Hunter had something else urgent to say, something that would make it all right. "It was not," he emphatically pronounced. That was it.
After that, the morning and afternoon passed in a haze of bad, loud, ubiquitous television should potential jurors really be exposed to such fare as "Texas Justice," "Divorce Court," "Judge Judy" and, for God's sake, two episodes of "The Nanny"? various unhealthy treats obtained from the snack machine to stave off boredom, and a lot of contemplative staring into the middle distance. I eavesdropped on conversations between a matronly Christian woman wearing more flag-embossed accessories than I was comfortable with and a young mom unsure about the future of her marriage. Another perk of jury duty, once voyeurism becomes tedious, is the two-hour lunch break that allowed me to wander aimlessly, meet a friend for lunch, explore some hidden corners and remember how fun downtown can be.
Luckily, my number was called, and I and about 49 other civically minded souls were taken to the criminal court building for possible jury service. Alas, after standing around in the marble hallway for an hour or so, we never made it past voir-dire; I never got to raise my hand and say, yes, I think there are too many frivolous lawsuits or yes, I have a graduate degree. I did, though, get to chat up my alderwoman for the better part of an afternoon; it seems even the more politically advantaged among us must do their civic duty.
You may feel that my time was wasted. It Was Not. When your jury summons arrives, cherish it. Pack a good, long book (something trashy to keep you awake) and some earplugs and go. If good people of average or above intellect shirk it off, that leaves just the unemployable, angry loners and alcoholics to serve on juries, and that's a scary thought.