A few weeks ago, I was called to report for jury duty at the Supreme Court in Brooklyn. I know that almost everyone has their own jury duty story but since most folks don’t have their own blog, mine is the one we’ll hear today.
I can’t remember the last time I had served; which might mean that it was a long time ago or possibly several weeks ago—it’s gotten that bad. But there I was, arriving at the ungodly hour of 8:30AM on a drizzly Thursday morning. I had a recollection that there might be a lot of nothing happening while I was there so I brought along 11 back issues of the New Yorker, two novels that have been sitting on my night stand waiting to be read, and several NY Times Sunday crossword puzzles. I was ready for the long haul.
I took my seat in a large room surrounded by several hundred of my fellow citizens. After taking care of some nuts and bolts of the process, I tried to settle in for my hiatus from the real world. But every so often there would be an announcement calling for potential jurors to go to a particular room. The randomness of those announcements kept me in a constant state of anxiety that precluded making a dent in any of the catch-up reading I had planned.
After about an hour or so, I heard my name called, along with about fifteen others, to go to room #7. There, overseeing the proceedings were several lawyers, one of whom laid out the broad strokes of the process of selecting a jury and what our responsibilities would be if, in fact, we were chosen to serve. He explained that this particular trial, a civil case, would take place on selected days over a 3-4 week period and asked if there was anyone who couldn’t be available for the entire time. He cited some acceptable reasons to opt out of serving, such as having airline reservations already booked or students taking exams. A few people raised their hands and met with the attorneys outside of our room to explain their situations and were dismissed.
Although I could certainly use the $40/day paid to jurors, I badly didn’t want to be involved in a month-long trial. But I was afraid that if I lied and said I had travel plans, I might be asked to produce plane tickets. So I mulled over some other possibilities. I raised my hand to speak with the attorneys and we had our little tete-a-tete. I should mention here that I’m really bad at lying–not because I find it morally offensive or I’m holier than thou–it’s just not a skill I have. And when the element of chutzpah is added to the mix, I’m just a mess. So, in not my finest hour, I said to the attorneys that I have a 96 year old mother who lives in Florida and given her age, I was concerned that I might need to hop on a plane at any time.
I thought this was a pretty decent way to go. Yes it’s true that my mother has been dead for about 15 years but I thought it was almost a mitzvah to resurrect her for these purposes. And timely too, as it was right around Easter Sunday. Better . . . so much better, I thought, than telling some strangers that a living parent had died. That would be beyond the pale.
When I told the attorneys about my elderly mom, one said that his mother was 94 and the other added that his was 98. Meaning, what’s the big deal about this aged parent thing. They asked if she was sick and I was so rattled that I said, rather proudly, that she was doing just fine. At this point they sent me back to room #7 to be included in the jury pool.
We were now told what the case was about; a medical malpractice issue. The lead attorney asked if there was anyone who felt they could not view the evidence impartially. My hand shot up and soon we were back in the hallway. I explained that I have many relatives who are doctors, some of whom had been defendants in malpractice cases (at this point I think I developed a tic; also my nose grew about 4 inches) but more to the point (and honestly), I feel that our justice system has gotten perverted and that nowadays it seems that when anything goes wrong, some person or institution is at fault. To this, one of the lawyers asked how I would feel if there was evidence that a doctor had amputated the wrong leg of a patient by mistake. I said that in that case I would probably find that there had been malpractice. His response was that that was too high a threshold to find guilt and I was dismissed.
I was now back in the large waiting room, once more in an anxious state. Now, even more so because we were getting to the end of the day and there was a chance that I might be impaneled again and have to return the following day. But thankfully, at about 4:30PM, there was an announcement that we were done for the day and would not have to return. Before we left, the Commissioner of Jurors spoke to us and thanked us for doing our civic duty. She concluded by saying that our service for the day meant we would not be called for jury duty again for another 8 years. At that point my mother will be 104. The truth is, I just can’t see myself serving on a jury at that time when there’s a good chance I might need to tend to her at any moment.