Being a Citizen – Jury Duty

Rule of Law

Two months ago, the dreaded jury duty notice showed up in the mail.  Uggh.

I am ashamed to say that my first response was “How do I get out of this?” Then the integrity part of me realized that this is one of the few times I can participate in what it means to be a US Citizen. From past experience, I’ve learned that there is never a good time to serve as there is always something more important. So I filled out the form and sent it in. If I’d read the form carefully, I would have noticed that you can now do this online.  Wow, the Washington Court system has come into the Internet age.

Time flew by and it was time to journey to Port Orchard in Kitsap County to report for duty. The jury waiting room had undergone an upgrade since my last visit 10 years ago. The bailiff and assistants were incredibly cordial and thanked us over and over again for doing our civic duty. The cynic in me looked around the room and wondered why all these losers couldn’t get out of jury duty (stop it Skip). However, my keen observational skills noticed that there was a preponderance of older people and young females. Oops, I am now one of those older people.

We were informed that our case today was a criminal domestic violence case.  We then had to watch a video about the legal process and our role as jurors.  They’d upgraded the DVD production values since the last time I’d reported for jury duty. They also provided us with a brochure that described the same kinds of things.

We found out that there we would be serving on a six person jury in the Kitsap County District Court case. Then we were each handed numbers to pin to our lapels.  While there were 30 of us present, I had a relatively low number. I started wondering what my odds were of actually being selected to serve.

Soon we were marched up to the court room and introduced to all the players – the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant, and the court clerk. Unlike the Law and Order experience, this court room was pretty cramped.  Unexpectedly, the lawyers and defendant were seated at the same table staring right at us – up close and personal.

With my keen observational skills, I noticed that they’d done a significant upgrade of the technology in the court room.  Instead of a court reporter, everything was going to be recorded. Both the judge and the court clerk had two very large LCD displays with all kinds of information that I couldn’t quite read.  They must have read my recent blog post on the productivity boost you get with multiple monitors. Not!

The judge asked us a set of general questions to determine if any of us should be dismissed for cause.  The judge kept pointing out that being dismissed either for cause or as a result of a peremptory challenge was not a reflection on us personally. As the judge asked whether any of us knew any law enforcement court personnel, I was reminded of my good friend Katherine’s story of her jury experience. As her jury selection dragged on, the judge was getting more and more frustrated with the lawyers and the prospective whiny jury prospects.  When he got to the “do any of you know” question, Katherine raised her hand.  The judge rather testily asked her who she knew in the court system.  She answered “You, your honor. You are my next door neighbor.” After the courtroom stopped convulsing in laughter, the judge sheepishly dismissed her.

No such luck for me today. I know hundreds of lawyers (my daughter and son-in-law at the top of the list) from my ten years building and selling eDiscovery software, but I don’t know any law enforcement officers or court personnel.

Then it came time for the lawyers to ask us their questions. The prosecutor got up and started with the general question about whether we were all comfortable with being able to make a decision beyond a reasonable doubt. He shared that there was a lot of confusion about what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means. As an example, he asked “Do any of you have a reasonable doubt that I graduated from law school?” We all raised our hands and laughed. The wise guy in me wanted to shout out “I hope it was a good law school.” Then I realized that I had no idea if he was a lawyer. I was making the assumption that lots of other people had checked on his qualifications in order for him to be in the courtroom. Even this easy question wasn’t so easy.

Through the rest of the morning and after lunch, the lawyers asked us questions related to our qualifications to be on the jury. One of the prospective jurors with a lower number than me shared that he was worried about his small business while he was on jury duty. After several followup questions he was allowed to leave. Slowly but surely the defense attorney got around to me.

He asked me what I did and I shared that I was a software business executive. He asked me if I was going to have the same problem as the other small business owner. I shared that I wasn’t going to be distracted as I had arranged my schedule to be available for the week.  However, it was clear that I got a black mark on his peremptory challenge list.

While I wasn’t eager to be on the jury and enjoyed the earlier back and forth comparing jury duty with going to the dentist, I also was interested in serving to see what the experience was like.

As the juror numbers were called out for the six person jury, I wasn’t selected. I had answered something wrong or wasn’t the right type. Now I was hurt. I wasn’t good enough to serve on this jury. While I was relieved that I would get the rest of my week back and would be able to attend several of the UW Bothell Innovation Week Forums, I was bummed.

So many are called, so few can serve.

As I emailed my family to let them know that I was dismissed from jury duty for the week, one of my daughters immediately replied and asked what I said so that she could use the same thing to get dismissed from her jury duty in California later in the week. I wish I knew.

As I drove back home, I reflected on this wonderful country we live in with its rule of law. It can be frustrating and unruly at times, but being called for jury duty is another one of those reminders that US citizenship is a privilege.

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