It was quite unsettling some years back when I received that letter from the clerk of courts.
My first reaction was, “What now? Am I being sued? Do I have a pile of unpaid parking tickets? Will I have to go to jail? Should I turn myself in? Should I run off to Rio where I might be forced to endure sunny beaches and cold mojitos?”
Heart in my mouth, I opened the letter. My relief was instant. I had been selected at random (using a Ouija board, I suspect) to potentially serve as a juror. All the clerk of courts wanted from me was to fill out and return a juror-related form.
I did so and then promptly forgot about it. The clerk of courts wrote to me again about a month later.
The second missive wasn’t nearly as benign as the first one. I was commanded, under penalty of law, to report for jury duty on a particular day. I checked my calendar. No problem. Then I saw what time they wanted me to be there: 8:45 in the morning.
Were they crazy over there at the courthouse? Who is free at that time of the day? Who on earth would have their cows milked and their chores finished by then?
I decided to dash off a disdainful dispatch to the judge outlining my outrage. I opted against it when I realized that it’s probably not prudent to provoke a person who possesses the power to put you in prison.
For the next several days, I ruminated about jury duty and began to think better of it. After all, serving on a jury is a chance for regular citizens to participate in our system of justice. Think of the sense of duty. Think of the responsibility. Think of the power.
I could imagine a tense scene in the jury room. The jury is hopelessly deadlocked; the air crackles with emotion. A critical decision has to be made. I whip out my Magic 8 Ball, shake it and read its oracular message (signs point to yes). The impasse is thus resolved, and the word goes out: We’ll have the super-large deluxe combo pizza with extra cheese.
I began to think that I might actually enjoy jury duty. I brushed up on my courtroom lingo. Objection! Sustained! If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit! I began to binge old reruns of “Ally McBeal” and “Night Court.”
On the appointed morning, I rushed through chores and, by skipping a few things, was able to get to the courthouse in the nick of time. About 40 prospective jurors milled around in the hallway. A bailiff soon instructed us to take seats in the courtroom. The clerk of courts appeared and said that our first order of business was to watch a video about jury duty.
In the video, a perky young woman told us — in a serious yet perky fashion — that jury duty is a serious matter and one of the highest callings for ordinary citizens. The finer points of jury duty were highlighted via scenes acted out by ordinary folks pretending to be jurors. The video also featured a guy who was obviously a magistrate in real life. Nobody can attain that level of stone-faced seriousness without years of practice.
After the video ended, the judge, the defendant and his attorney, and various officials entered the courtroom and took their places. A laptop was used to randomly whittle the number of prospective jurors down to 18. I made the cut and was instructed to sit in the jury box. Oh, boy.
The attorneys for each side questioned us. Did any of us know the defendant or his attorney? Did any of us watch the low-speed Bronco chase? Is there any reason why you can’t serve on this jury today?
I briefly considered asking if I could have a special recess so that I could go home and clean the barn. I decided against it and instead concentrated on appearing as serious and stone-faced as possible.
The attorneys from each side sat at a table and passed a legal pad back and forth. They took turns scribbling on it and reduced the number of jurors to 12.
I couldn’t believe it when my name wasn’t included on the final list. No one had been more seriously stone-faced than me. I felt the sting of being unselected.
Oh well, maybe I will be called up again. Next time, I will show what a good juror I am by bringing my Magic 8 Ball with me instead of leaving it in the pickup.
Guilty or not? Umm ... concentrate and ask again.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works full time for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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