Two weeks ago, I wrote about my annoyance with the jury duty process. I had to delete that post because I was chosen to serve and they warned us not to post about our experience while the trial was going on. While I hadn’t mentioned anything about the case, I thought it better safe than sorry.
The trial is over now and since I’m free from restriction, I thought I’d share my updated thoughts about jury duty.
- It’s Expensive – I’m a writer with a part-time job that pays the bills when book sales are sluggish. I don’t get paid when I don’t work so I’m out more than $1,000 for my little civic adventure. I’m incredibly fortunate because my employer gives me vacation time so I won’t have to take that hit, but I’m still out 7 days of vacation. The attorneys pay expert witnesses for their time in the courtroom and it would be nice if the jurors got paid, especially those who don’t have jury duty leave. If I didn’t have vacation time, I’d be hurting when bills came due this month. I suppose that would make cases more expensive but we’re talking million dollar judgments so court costs that included a better rate for jurors – even minimum wage – would be appreciated.
- It’s Boring – You see all those exciting courtroom dramas on TV and in the movies but a real trial is nothing like that. The case itself was interesting, but the process was not. There were lots of “side bar” conversations where the attorneys chat with the judge in a corner to decide some complicated thing they may not want the jury to hear. They turn on a white noise generator during these side bars and whenever the attorney doing the questioning consults with the second attorney on the team. There’s a whole lot of nothing to do during these times for the jury. I will say, I liked the judge. I’m no legal expert but he seemed knowledgeable, fair and impartial.
- It’s Fascinating – I found myself completely wrapped up in the testimony of the witnesses. As a juror, part of my job was to judge who might be fudging on the truth, who might be biased because of personal or professional issues and to what degree the witness testimony was accurate, particularly when there were two or three witnesses saying different things. I had questions that went unanswered during the trial and that made it challenging during deliberations, but you have to decide the case based only on what is presented, so unanswered questions remain unanswered at the end of the day.
- It’s Sad – This was a wrongful death case. A man was killed at work, falling off the top of his truck as he was loading it with molten sulfur. The only eye witness had been hard hit emotionally, something that was obvious during his testimony three years after the fact. No matter how we decided the case, it was tragic to hear about somebody being killed just trying to make a living. People in the field doing energy work make sacrifices. They work away from home and family for days or weeks at a time, sleeping in their trucks, working outside in the cold under hazardous conditions. It was hard to listen to the testimony from all three of the companies involved because it illustrated how little genuine care any of these companies exercise to ensure that their employees are as safe as they reasonably can be while doing this dangerous work.
- It’s Educational – Touching on what I just mentioned, this case made me painfully aware of how dangerous these jobs are. I’ve known this from living in Wyoming and hearing the workplace fatality statistics, but dry statistics don’t show you the real individuals who do this work every day. The men who testified about their experiences doing the same job were tough, but admitted they’re scared on the top of the trucks every single time they load, but they had a job to do and you get it done or you don’t have a job. That spirit really touched me.
- It’s Frustrating – During deliberations, reaching agreement on all aspects of the decision was an adventure. It took us five hours, but we were unanimous in the end. In respect for my fellow jurists, that’s all I’ll say.
- It’s Important – I know it sounds corny, but the judicial system wouldn’t work if it weren’t for people being willing to answer the summons for jury duty. Everyone talks about ways to get out of it, but if I were a plaintiff or a defendant, I’d sure be thankful for people who serve. A jury of ordinary people, taking time to hear both sides, weigh the cases presented, talk through the issues and come to a decision is a beautiful thing.
I’m glad I’ve completed my service and am free from being called (by this level anyway) for two years, but after all those times not even making it to the jury box, I’m kind of glad that for once, I got to see the process from start to finish.
What I’m reading
I got quite a bit of reading done during breaks. Since you aren’t allowed electronic devices, I raided my bookshelf for Rose House by Tina Ann Forkner. I met Tina a few years ago at a Wyoming Writers conference and bought the paperback at that time. Sadly, it’s sat on my shelf ever since because I normally grab my e-reader instead. It’s not my usual genre, though there does seem to be an element of mystery or suspense building. The pacing is much slower than I’m used to but the visual imagery is lovely. I got about half-way through during my jury service and I think I’ll put it on the bedside table to finish.