Duty calls. Unfortunately, when the call is jury duty it’s about as welcome as a friend’s persistent drunk dialing in the wee hours. For reasons beyond my comprehension — some sort of smiting by the civic duty gods perhaps — jury duty comes calling every two years like clockwork. Others I know claim to rarely or outright never get a summons. On the other end of the spectrum, I can expect that letter from the court like clockwork every two years when I again become eligible.
And I can anticipate not wanting to go. Don’t get me wrong; I believe in the jury system. I believe every person has to participate in the process for it to work properly. I believe it can be an eye-opening experience for those sitting in the box and the chance of a fair trial for those whose case is being weighed.
I also believe it ironic that the common reason I try to get out of jury duty in my home county is because I’m needed at work in San Mateo County often sitting in a courtroom. Unfortunately, my job covering the courts isn’t enough to qualify me for time actually served which brings me back to my latest tour of the judicial system.
An hour after reporting for jury duty and I still hadn’t dreamed up a valid or at least convincing excuse for why I couldn’t serve.
Not so for the middle-aged woman who teetered in on 6-inch metal spike heels, a black gathered mini skirt and shirt more suited for sweaty night clubbing than thoughtful deliberating. She tried checking in with the clerk who said she’d have to return the next morning. The time was 9:30 a.m., way past the 8 a.m. start time, and it was simply too late for that day, the clerk explained.
But I can’t tomorrow. I work, the woman said.
Well what day would work for you? the surprisingly patient clerk asked.
I’m free Sunday, the woman said with nary a hint of sarcasm.
You’ve got to be kidding, the clerk replied. I’d been thinking the exact same thing from the moment I spotted the woman’s attire.
But wait — the clerk filled out some form and handed it to the woman who left. Had the Sunday quip worked? And why didn’t I think of that?
Same goes for the woman who brought a baby and stroller. Are you a full-time mom? The clerk asked. Nope. Seems the woman had a full-time job but thought jury duty spared her having to shell out for day care.
Then there was the guy who showed up only to learn he should have just called the night before to discover he wasn’t needed.
Amazing the eavesdropping opportunity when one sits close to the counter.
Several hours, a couple cups of coffee, one video about the joys of serving and multiple breaks later, and I was a free woman. The group was thanked and dismissed having never even made it into a courtroom so I’ll never know if the case settled, the jury slots were filled or the jury room employees just got tired of looking at us — especially that guy literally snoring in his seat with his arms flung out to the sides and the woman who when checking in stood in front of a large sign proclaiming that shorts, tank tops and flip-flops were unacceptable court clothing. Guess what she was wearing.
In any case, I’m home free for another stretch which gives me two years to come up with a valid excuse. Or, perhaps my future summons will finally fall in a window when losing a day or two or six or 14 of work wouldn’t be a hardship. Only time will tell. Until then, the jury’s out.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.