Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In which the Meridian gets to help Lady Justice with those scales of hers

It is most fitting that, this Independence Day week, yesterday I received a jury summons in the mail. I am to appear at the county court house (which, as it happens, is two blocks from where we live) at 8:30 on July 17.

This is my first ever jury summons. I am thrilled. No--really. I am.

There must already be some Peter Principle-like or Murphy's Law-like axiom with regard to jury duty, but on the offhand chance that one doesn't exist, I will coin one:
Blog Meridian's Jury Duty Axiom: The likelihood of one's being summoned to serve on a jury increases in direct proportion to one's preternatural unwillingness to serve on a jury.

This is certainly true in my own experience; I hope that my legions of readers (and in particular those of you I know of who are involved with the law) will be willing to confirm the truth of my axiom via your comments, so as to lend added weight to the block-quote formatting and bold type above and I can get on with the business of printing up T-shirts and filing trademark applications and retaining lawyers in case of infringements.

Geez. This more fully participating in our nation's legal system has gonne to my head a bit.

I digress.

I truly am serious about being excited about serving. We are guaranteed the right to a trial by a jury of one's peers; it seems to me that in order to ensure that we ALL have access to that right, there is a corresponding price that should, that must be paid by those of us who are citizens. Hence that word "duty." Cue the "freedom isn't free" and "with freedom comes responsibility" tapes. In terms of time, at least, missing a day or two of work is a small price to pay to ensure that my fellow citizens have the same access to a right that, should the need ever arise, I'd sure as all heck would want to have access to.

Money is another matter, though, for many who would otherwise be willing to serve, and we all know that the state's compensation for jury duty is, charitably, paltry. While one doesn't serve for the money, one often seeks to be excused (or just plain doesn't show up) because of lost wages. Enter, in Texas, Steven Wentworth, a state senator, who here announces recently-passed legislation that seeks to increase compensation for jury members. Part of his rationale for the bill follows:
I would like to believe that most Texans respond positively to a notice to appear for jury duty at their local courthouse to sit and determine the facts in a case.

Reality, however, is that the number of Texans reporting for jury duty has decreased significantly, placing many jurisdictions in danger of constitutional challenges for violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that jury pools must reflect a representative cross-section of the community.

A jury pool should include people from all walks of life; however, so many Texans called to serve on juries are not showing up that we run the very real risk of cases being overturned on appeal because the jury pool did not include a broad spectrum of Texans.

For many Texans, the axiom, "time is money," applies to jury duty. A broad cross-section of Texans, including high-paid self-employed professionals as well as lower-paid salaried employees, find jury duty to be a financial sacrifice, and one that many are unwilling to endure.

There is much to say here about some rather ominous implications for our system of justice (and, indeed, government itself) if more and more of us deem ourselves "unwilling to endure" not just jury duty but all sorts of matters that hinge on the existence and participation of an informed citizenry. But: as I literally am typing these words, NPR is broadcasting its annual July 4th reading of the Declaration of Independence, which happens to list as a grievance against the King a denial of the right to jury trials for some colonists.

So, yeah: come July 17, I'll feel like a patriot. But I'll also be taking along something to read. The wheels of jury selection, I'm told, like the wheels of Justice themselves, grind slowly.

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R. Sherman said...

Congrats. I'm sure you'll do well. My three favorite jury summons stories:

I got called to be juror on a case I was trying.

My mother got called to serve on one of my cases.

A client (defendant) in a boating accident case, was called to serve at his own trial.

Good times.

My experience has been that the vast majority of jurors take the job seriously, even if they would prefer to be someplace else. The one's who really don't want to be there can usually figure a way to get out of it.

And most of the time, the result is acceptable if not beloved by all sides.

Have fun. You're the type of juror most lawyers would want to decide a case.


Raminagrobis said...

Good luck. If you have a change of heart, just say you're prejudiced against all races, that should get you out of it.

Strangely, neither I nor any member of my immediate family has ever been called for jury service. Over here we tend to call it jury service rather than jury duty -- perhaps because we're not so much ensuring our civil liberties by discharging our civic responsibilities as we are toiling in service of the Crown.

Belle Lettre said...

Good for you! It is refreshing to hear of such enthusiasm and civic duty. Every law professor wants to be on a jury, and now they're so desperate courts are relaxing the general prejudice against lawyers and law professors. It's always fascinating to be a part of, rather than merely an observer of, the process or to see it from a different side of the bench.

Good luck getting through voir dire--I hope you don't get peremptorily challenged. I think you would be a fine juror.

Winston said...

What ever will you do with the windfall income from the daily stipend?

Your enthusiasm is unusual these days. Go get 'em...