February 23, 2011

Jury duty comes but once a year

Posted in Between Us column, Politics at 11:56 pm by dinaheng

You know the feeling. You get a jury summons, and your first thought is,”Oh…”

Of all the notices we get in the mail, being invited to a court date probably ranks right up there with filing your income taxes, getting an annual mammogram, or signing up for a prostate exam. You know you’ve got to do it, but you don’t have to like it.

I’ve been called for jury duty often enough that I no longer postpone it whenever possible. In Los Angeles County, like much of the country, we have a one day of service or one trial system. You get assigned to a court, show up for one day, and if you’re not picked for a jury, your service is done for 12 months. If you get picked, you serve the length of the trial, and you’re done for 12 months.

Whenever I tell anyone I’ve got jury duty coming up, they invariably give advice on how to get out of being picked for the judgment box. I’ve been told everything from “pretend that being in the courthouse is making you sick,” to “wear a t-shirt that advocates capital punishment.” In other words, act as biased as you can toward everyone, and try not to be embarrassed about it.

It’s ironic that in a society where we’ve fought for a justice system that allows us to be judged by a jury of our peers, no one wants to serve on a jury. We love watching others get judged on everything from “Judge Judy” to “Law & Order: SVU,” but when it comes to participating in the process for real… well, we’d rather not be bothered.

Every time I’ve gotten a jury summons in Los Angeles, I’ve always been assigned to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center downtown, where sitting in the juror waiting room makes you feel like you’re in the doctor’s office… for the whole day.

People sit in rows of chairs, waiting for their names to be called. You can bring books, magazines and your laptop to work on, but no talking above a whisper, please.

This year, I was surprised to find myself assigned to the Beverly Hills Courthouse for the week of Valentine’s Day. Since I didn’t have anyone to spend Valentine’s Day with, maybe I’d meet someone in court that Monday. (How romantic would that be?)

So I cleared my work calendar for the week, ready to serve. Imagine my surprise when I called in the night before, only to be told by the recording that I didn’t have to report on Monday, and that I must call in Monday night to see if I’m needed on Tuesday.

Long story short, I ended up calling every night, hoping that I’d be drafted the next day so that I could get my service over with. But it was not to be. Finally, on Thursday night, I was dismissed for Friday and told that my jury service was now complete.

After scheduling a week of my life so that I could be available at the court’s whim, I didn’t even get called in.

I almost felt cheated. Since I had no deadlines to meet for work that week, I got a lot of errands done, and the house is spotless for the next guest. But it was no fun living day to day with a cloud of obligation overhead.

Oh well, that pesky summons will show up in the mailbox again soon enough. Maybe next time, I’ll get a better column out of it.

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