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Jury Duty

Katy residents should look at jury duty in a different light

A few weeks ago I received a jury summons. I should have known it was coming. For one thing, I haven’t been called in over 4 years. For another, My husband and both of my grown children have been summoned in the last 3 months. It was only a matter of time before mine arrived in the mailbox.  I live in the Harris County portion of Katy, which means a no-expenses-paid day trip into beautiful, downtown Houston. Lucky me!

At first, I was more than just a little annoyed. It meant rearranging my entire schedule and my life. Grumble, grumble, grumble. I had to make other arrangements for getting my granddaughter to school (one of my jobs since she and our daughter moved in with us). Grumble, grumble. Then, because I didn’t relish the thought of driving and parking in downtown Houston, I had to learn the bus schedule and bus stop locations downtown. It also meant finding my way from the bus stop to Jury Assembly Room and from each of the separate court houses to the return bus stop. Grumble, grumble.

It also meant taking time off from my writing desk. Grumble, grumble. Because I don’t get paid if I don’t write, I took a little hand work with me so that I’d have something to do while hanging out in the Jury Assembly Room with about 500 of my new friends that didn’t want to be there either. Grumble, grumble. I don’t much like hand work; the computer keyboard is SOOO much faster. But I knew that there wouldn’t be much room to work with my laptop and my notes. Plus I didn’t feel like lugging the laptop around downtown.

All my grumbling aside, the people running the Harris County jury services are attempting to make the experience easier and a bit more pleasant for potential jurors – or maybe I should say, a little less un-pleasant. They have an effective website with valuable transportation and parking information as well as ways to reschedule jury duty. They now provide Wi-Fi in the Jury Assembly Room, which a few die-hard computer addicts took advantage of (by spreading out over two or three seats). The Jury Room personnel responsible for greeting jurors, fielding creative excuses from jurors hoping to get out of jury service, and arranging jurors into panels for voir dire have assumed a more cheerful attitude (no more dour government grumps to contend with). In fact, some of them bordered on the comedic, including the bailiff responsible for the 65 person panel I was chosen for. Even the judge  and the lawyers had a funny streak.

A little humor went a long way toward disarming the “I don’t want to be here” attitude of most of the jurors. However, there were still a few who, finding no creative excuses for getting out jury duty, did everything in their power to keep from being selected for this particular jury. It was a sorry sight to witness the extremes to which four or five of the 65 empanelled jurors would go to keep from being among the chosen twelve. Every question or scenario put to the jury by the judge and the attorneys became an excuse to inform the entire room that it was mandatory that they be disqualified from this jury. They had been burglarized before. They thought that any defendant who didn’t testify on his own behalf looked guilty. The defendant was indicted by the Grand Jury which they felt automatically made him guilty.

None of us wanted to be there. Many raised their hand because they’d been burglarized and some remained silent in hopes of flying in under the radar, hoping their invisibility would keep them from being chosen. Those few who objected the loudest weren’t really objecting to the scenarios and questions put before them; they were doing everything they could to ruin their chances of getting on the jury. They objected so loudly and so many times, it became irritating to listen to; not only to the judge, the attorneys and the defendant, but to the remaining jurors. The rest of us began distancing ourselves by becoming more conciliatory, practically volunteering to be on the jury because we didn’t want to appear as selfish and heartless as the few malcontents in the room.

I was not chosen for the jury, though at this point I would have gladly done so, even if it meant giving up a few days of my time and the money I wouldn’t be earning from writing. For me, the experience was disheartening at the very least, if not downright criminal. If it had been one of us up there in that defendant’s seat, or, God forbid, one of our family members, how would it feel to watch the depraved indifference of these few jurors? One thing’s clear; I will not feel the same sense of dread the next time a jury summons shows up in my mail box and I’ll certainly not grumble like I did this time.