My presence is requested--nay, required. I have once again been summoned. This is the seventh time this honor has been bestowed upon me. However my pick record is quite dismal.
The first time I was a barely legal kid living in Florida. The Friday before I was to report I called the number provided but there was no answer. I continued to call all weekend; but there was never an answer; never an outgoing message. 'I must be needed,' I reasoned, and I was elated. However, Fate is sometimes cruel. I, along with numerous others, arrived on Monday and we were met with looks normally bestowed on those claiming to see aliens flying in the sky, and rude comments like, “Why didn’t you call? You are not needed! Go away!” Everyone was relived except me. I believe Jury Duty is an important aspect of our legal system and I wanted to be picked. Everyone deserves a trial by their peers. The elation I had been riding quickly crashed and burned. My only consolation was the prorated service check for five dollars and change—nothing of consequence—the price of a tank of ‘70s gas for my VW Bug. However, multiplied by several hundred people, they soon discovered not airing the message was a costly mistake.
The second time I received my invitation to a Florida trial, I was excused because I was a Nursing Student in the state of Texas.
"The third times a charm," or so I thought. The Texas phone system worked and I was excused. My number, in the 200s, was too high.
The fourth time I dressed in my Sunday Best and arrived early to ensure I received a coveted parking space. I chatted with everyone I knew. I flitted around as if I was at a cocktail party. had high hopes of being picked. Surely this would be my year.
I was excused because I knew and had worked with three of the other prospective jurors. I left dejected. My former coworkers and acquaintances were jubilant. At this point I asked a lawyer how I could make myself become a more attractive juror. He said I wasn't picked because was too eager.
The fifth time I slouched as I read my book. I ignored my surroundings. When announcements were made, I raised my eyes and disdainfully looked at the speaker, stifled a yawn, sighed and returned to my reading. Beneath my facade of boredom my tummy was tied in knots. There were two cases being tried. One was a Veteran against a Business Owner, the second was a Competency Hearing. Either would be interesting to me, but because I had worked as a Psych Nurse for 6 1/2 years I really wanted the Competency Hearing.
I made it through the questions and waited during the break as both sides picked and struck out the prospects one by one.
When the lawyers filed back in to tell us their selections we were told most of us were being relieved of duty—they settled the Veterans case, and only the following Jurors would go across the street to the judges chambers for the Competency Hearing. I wasn't among the chosen. I left with mixed emotions. Dejection at once again missing the cut. And excitement. It was the closest I'd ever come.
Then I experienced a break of ten years during which I wasn't even invited to the dance. All my friends and coworkers were. They even served on Grand Juries. Each and every one of them griped and complained about it and tried to finagle a way out of performing their civic duty. I wanted to serve my community and wasn't even being considered. It seemed there was no justice in the Justice System.
The sixth summons arrived after a decade of silence. In breathless anticipation I opened the summons to serve. Jury Duty had eluded me for 36 years—would this finally be my year? Hope sprang eternal. Realistically I knew it would be a long shot—especially since the lottery number I drew was the highest I had ever drawn; however, masquerading as a cockeyed-optimistic-Pollyanna, I hoped this time would be different. I would wait three weeks before I could call to see if I needed to attend the screening process.
During the intervening three weeks, I prepared myself. The first week, I had a long overdue mani-pedi. The second week, I scoped out the new location—we had built a huge Criminal Justice Complex since the last time my number was drawn. The third week I planned what I would wear. I didn’t like the plan. So I bought something new. I picked out a book to read during the mind-numbing wait I knew I would endure prior to the final selection process. I practiced my “bored look” so I wouldn't appear too eager. I alerted my colleagues and rearranged my work schedule to accommodate my service. I was ready—ahead of time. Way ahead…and I still didn’t know if I would be needed. I would not find out until after the close of business on Friday.
After an eternity of waiting, Friday arrived. I worked through the longest workday of my life. And then I counted the sixty minutes until 5 pm. Each second took a lifetime to tick. Finally it was “after five.” To be exact, it was 5:01 p.m.
Trembling I dialed the number as instructed. The phone rang. I held my breath, hopeful this would be my time to serve. The phone rang again. I worried a hangnail—this really needs to be my time—I want to serve. I have to serve. I yearn to serve. The third time it rang, I gnawed a fingernail—ruining my perfectly good three week old manicure—and the snotty voice inside my head wondered, ‘did they forget to leave the recording on?’ It had happened to me before. And now, thirty-five years later, I feared it had happened again.
The phone rang a fourth time...Nothing. I pulled the phone away from my ear, looked at it, and spoke to it incredulously, “it’s not like anyone has to move or reach to pick you up! Surely, the outgoing message will kick in soon—don’t all answering machine recorders kick in by the fourth ring?” Mockingly, it rang a fifth time. A sigh escaped my lips. I was still a contender, but I would have to wait until Monday to learn my fate. My eyes glazed over like the lifeless eyes of a hopeless worker in a dead end job. I let the phone ring one more time. Just in case. Finally, after the sixth ring, the automated voice answered.
I paced the room like a caged lion as I listened half-heartedly to the regular outgoing announcements instructing listeners, “If you want thus-and-such, do this. If you are thus-and-so, go here. If you need to speak with so-and-so, call this number.” Finally, the flat and emotionless automated voice intoned the message I had been waiting three long weeks to hear, “Numbers 1-600 are required to report.”
I sucked all the air in the room into my lungs and froze in my tracks. Had my ears deceived me? “Required to Report”—that phrase was as sweet as early morning birdsong. Against the odds, the opportunity to serve my community was mine. I made the First Cut. I was required to report.
The morning of Jury Selection I arrived and filled out my summons while I waited in the weapons search line. Then I waited in the hallway while they tried to fit all 600 of us in the room. Several were asked to sit at the lawyers tables and in the jury box. Finally, the process began. I was 52 jurors away from the cut off. Even though there were several cases to be tried, I had no hope of making it any farther.
They broke us into 6 groups—the sixth group was excused to go home. The remaining five were scattered throughout the complex. I was the third person to be called in my group— when a Minister that I volunteered with on the Welcome Committee at my Church had been the second my chances had plummeted. Solidifying the unlikelihood of my being picked, three prospective jurors after I was called a Psychiatrist I worked with was called. I resignedly thought to myself, "Maybe next time."
We entered the Court Room in the numbered order. The lawyers polled us. They never asked if we knew anyone in the room. I began to have a glimmer of hope.
After a break, in which the lawyers whittled away at the jury pool—and one of the other groups was released because they had settled out of court— we were summoned back in and informed of who had made the cut. Prospective Juror Number 2 (my Minister) became Juror Number 1. I started packing up my stuff. Then they called my number. I was Juror Number 2!
My giddiness at being chosen quickly turned into a somber realization that I had a huge responsibility heaped on my shoulders. I was at once humbled. The day wasn't about me and my desire to be on a jury. It was about doing the right thing. Of judging with wisdom and discernment. As I truly comprehended that the quality of life for another person hung in the balance I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders.
This week, as I looked at my seventh summons, the memories of the past 36 years flooded through me.
I'm still eager to participate in the legal system; however, this time I'm acutely aware of the overwhelming privilege and responsibility we call Jury Duty.
This time I know there will be difficult decisions to be made—decisions that will effect other people. Decisions that will determine freedom or incarceration.
This time my trembling hands opened the envelope and I swallowed convulsively as I learned I am Prospective Juror #215.