COMMENTARY ON A CITIZEN’S OBLIGATION TO SERVE
Last month, I was summoned to jury duty in a not-so-desirable area of Los Angeles County. I was happy to serve and fulfill my obligation. For a trial lawyer, serving on a jury — and even just appearing for jury duty and being a part of a jury pool — is educational. However, some people seemingly will go to great lengths to avoid jury service.
The following is my rant on what I observed some people are willing to do to avoid serving on a jury.
WHAT IS JURY SERVICE
The trial that our juror pool was subject to serve was a violent murder case. From the short summary of the case read to the entire pool of potential jurors, it sounded like a difficult case. They promised it to be a short case — five days — but the kind of evidence that I expected to be introduced at trial would not be for the squeamish.
Because of the many apparent misconceptions that I heard, I should provide a brief explanation of what constitutes jury service in California. When you are summoned, you are obligated to serve for “one day, one trial.” If during your one day, you are called to a courtroom for a possible trial, then you serve until completion of that trial. If you are not called to a courtroom, then when that one day is over, your service obligation is over. Gone are the days when you were required to serve for multiple days, no matter what. Easy, right?
ACTING LIKE A LUNATIC DOES NOTHING BUT MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE A LUNATIC
To my surprise, people will say just about anything to get out of jury duty. When my friends found out I was summoned for jury duty, even though all of them know I’m a lawyer, many had “tips” on how to get out of jury service. The fact is that people from all walks of life are subject to jury duty. Lawyers, judges, celebrities . . . no one is exempt.
When I appeared for jury duty, I noticed that in our jury pool was a famous actress. I told her I was going to blog about our day, and she asked not to publish her name. (Just in case she reads this: she is far more stunning in person than she is on the screen.) I bring her up because her attitude towards her service was superb. Like all of us, she had other — better — things to do. Our jury service was during the time when pilots were being cast. So, this actress undoubtedly gave up potentially lucrative career opportunities to comply with her obligations.
The actress’ attitude stood in stark contrast to others in our jury pool — some of whom could barely contain their disdain for the process. One man stood out. He first proclaimed that he could not be impartial because of his disdain for the legal system, which he termed to be an utter failure. Then he changed gears and said while he could be impartial no one else in the mixed raced room — he was Caucasian — could do what was necessary. He raised his voice to the judge, made it clear that he had no respect for the process.
Instead of getting excused, the judge ordered him to remain in the jury pool for the entire jury selection process. Good thing I wasn’t the judge; someone would’ve needed a lawyer.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Trying to get out of jury duty by acting like an ass is dumb. For one thing, you’re only embarrassing yourself. Plus, you are answering questions under penalty of perjury. So you should be truthful if nothing else. But more importantly, being a juror is such a small imposition that you should fulfill your duty without resentment. The judge and the court personnel now make it as easy as they can for you. If you have a sincere conflict in schedule, they’ll help you if you are forthright and honest about your situation. While it may not get you out of service completely (as there are few truly valid excuses to get you out of your obligation completely), you will be permitted to reschedule. (In the interests of full disclosure, after serving for two days as a potential juror, I disclosed a conflict in schedule and the fact that I was a trial lawyer — and was excused by the court and the parties.)
Finally, some day it might be you standing in a courtroom as a litigant, looking for a fair and impartial group of jurors to serve in your case. If that day comes, wouldn’t you rather have jurors who are voluntarily complying with their obligations — instead of those who are resentful of the intrusion. Put more simply, what comes around, goes around. Do your duty. Don’t be an ass.