When I first got my summons in the mail, I was excited. I would finally have an understanding of what jurors went through before they got to the courtroom. I knew that as an injury attorney, there was almost no chance of actually getting on a jury – but I was still eager for the opportunity. I arrived at the Multnomah County courthouse on time, and was given a jury badge. I took my seat with the other prospective jurors, most of them looking bored and unhappy. Several were playing with cell phones and computers; others were engrossed in books and magazines. After what seemed like a very long wait, we were finally ready to get started.
First, a judge came down and spoke to us about the importance of jury service. She tried to convince us all that jury duty isn’t an enormous waste of time, and that we should all be patient because the trial process isn’t like we’ve all seen on television. She joked that people weren’t excited when they got their summons and thanked us for actually showing up. After her brief introduction, we were introduced to a video optimistically entitled “Justice For All.”
I had low expectations for a video produced on a budget by the Department of Justice. When there aren’t enough funds for the DOJ to answer the phones during business hours, you can’t expect Hollywood-production quality. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The video included judges, attorneys, and jurors, who talked about the trial process and what to expect. The actual jurors talked about how great of an experience it was to serve on a jury.
After a few hours of surfing the Internet and people-watching, all of us potential jurors were told that all the scheduled trials had settled: we would not be needed. While most of the people in the room were happy to be on their way, I was disappointed. I still feel like I played an important role in the process. Without potential jurors, the cases set for trial likely would not have settled because there wouldn’t have been the pressure of a looming trial.
Just being there as an available juror is crucial to our judicial system. No other country has a justice system quite like ours, and it’s fascinating to see how it works. Even now, people are pulled away from their daily routines to make really important decisions that affect people’s lives. Yes, jury service is inconvenient. Yes, it takes people away from work and school and other activities. But, without a jury, there is no justice. And, taking one day (or a few days) to guarantee a citizen’s right to trial by jury is really not that much to ask.
I encourage everyone to attend jury service with enthusiasm and take pride in the fact that in America, we still let normal people decide what justice really is.