From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jury Duty

Trying to be a good citizen


It started with a letter from the Christian County Circuit Court Clerk. The envelope bore the Kentucky Court of Justice seal and looked ominously official.  "PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY," it said in large red letters across the top.

Inside, I found a summons. "DEAR PROSPECTIVE JUROR: You have been selected to serve as a JUROR in the Christian County Courts. You are summoned to appear at the following place, date, and time. Failure to appear may result in a fine or jail time..." and so on. 

I had to answer some questions on a form and return it within five days. Most of the questions were innocuous. I remember only two of them -- whether I or anyone in my family had ever been convicted of a felony and whether I or anyone in my family had ever filed a personal injury claim.

On July 6, roughly 50 citizens (including me) answered the jury duty summons. Getting through the metal detector and security check at the door of the Justice Center was difficult for me. First, I had to remove my nail clippers from my key chain and take them back to my car. Then I had to take my camera out of my purse and take it back to my car.

I finally got through security, found the courtroom and sat down in an empty seat. In a few minutes, a secretary for the District Court welcomed us to jury duty. After roll call, she told us a bit about the types of cases that are tried in District Court and how a jury would be selected, if needed. Then we watched a video about Kentucky's justice system.

Before we left, each of us received a card with a telephone number on it. We were instructed to call that number each day after 4:30 p.m. to hear whether we had jury duty the next day. The card also had a telephone number to call in case of an emergency that would prevent us being available for jury duty.

I didn't anticipate that I would have any emergencies, but I did. When my Aunt Cleona passed away, I was gone for about five days, so I called the emergency number. The clerk's office told me that there was a case that required a jury on one of the days I was going to be absent. However, I was excused.

When I got back home (on a Thursday night), I was busy with catching up on my life and going back to work. For several days, I totally forgot that I had jury duty. On Monday night, I was taking a shower, when it hit me like a bolt of lightning -- oh-my-gosh, I'd forgotten to call, and what if I had missed a time when I was supposed to appear?

I called the number as soon as I got out of the shower. The message said that jurors were needed the next morning. I still don't know if the jurors were needed on the Friday and Monday that I forgot about jury duty, but I doubt it.

The next morning, the session in the courtroom began with a roll call of the jurors. I was thankful I was there to answer when my name was read. Then the lawyers and the judge had a quiet discussion at the bench. I heard the words "car accident". Soon, the judge announced that a key witness was unable to be in court that day so the trial was postponed.

I've only had jury duty one more time since then. We all met in the same courtroom again. After the roll call, the judge explained that the court would be considering half a dozen cases of adults who might be unable to handle their own affairs. The jury would hear the evidence in each case and decide whether the person was incompetent. If necessary, the judge would then appoint someone as a guardian.

A clerk turned a handle to spin a little wire cage of numbered balls. After a few revolutions she pulled out a ball and called a name. One of the jurors in the audience rose and took a seat in the jury section at the front of the courtroom. The judge questioned him about his acquaintance with the families and the witnesses. (The juror would have been disqualified if he felt unable to be impartial.)

The process was repeated until twelve jurors were seated. Then the balls were spun again, and 6 of the 12 jurors were chosen. The other 6 were dismissed, along with all the rest of us in the jury pool. I could have stayed and observed the trial, but I left. I was making a quick trip with Isaac to Murray that day to try to iron out some college enrollment complications before I had to be at work in the afternoon.

My session of jury duty ends in a little over two weeks. It has been interesting, but I'm thankful that so far, I haven't had to sit on a jury. If I do have to be a juror, I will do my best to give an honest and fair vote based on careful consideration of the evidence. However, if that grave responsibility does not come to me, I won't be disappointed.

(I took the photo of the statue of Lady Justice a couple of years ago when I attended a trial at the Justice Center. No one said a word about me having a camera, then.)

4 comments:

Kenneth Fred Hilf said...

Hey Gene: Feedburner report__ my 1st email this post, 2 page print out excellent, all photos available on click request, top banner photo links directly to page very nicely, your photo comp is tops as well as your story lines :) Just thought you would like to know how my new super fast linux is in good reciept of your excellent efforts. The compulsion to write (excessively like encyclopedic) and dictionary writers commonalities is quite well known throughout history...
I'm neither, Sincerely, kfH(:-))

Genevieve said...

I didn't know you were a Linux user, Kenneth. Thanks for the report about how the Prairie Bluestem e-mails print out. That's interesting to know.

RunAwayImagination said...

A couple of years ago I served on the grand jury in my county. We handled 60 or more cases each day once a month for 6 months. It was quite intense but very educational. There was even some humor every now and then.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Runaway. A church friend of ours was on grand jury duty last year, and he told us that the experience convinced him to get a concealed-weapon permit! I don't know if he went ahead and got it or not. I don't think that he had to serve for 6 months, though. That seems like a very long obligation.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.