Jury Duty

A month ago, the letter came in the mail inviting me to attend a few days in court on behalf of the county and that they appreciate my deepest considerations in deciding to do so.

I believe these were the exact words, “You have been qualified and summoned to serve as a trial juror in the Circuit Court for Allegany County.

“Your term of service will being September 4 and will continue through September 28.

“Any person summoned for service who shall fail to appear will be subject to the penalties of fine or imprisonment, or both…”

So, that’s pretty much why I went.

I arrived in a suit that I recently bought for a funeral. The newest nice clothes I have since I haven’t had to dress up for years. It was too hot to wear my tie, but I took it in case. I could just imagine the judge looking over in my direction and saying something to the effect, “I’m not sure where you think you are. But when you come in my courtroom as a juror, you will look professional.” So to avoid an awkward moment such as that, I was prepared to pull my tie out of my pocket and throw it around my neck since it was already tied.

Everyone else was dressed casual. One guy was in shorts. As hot as it was, I was in a black suit and everyone else looked like they were still partying from Labor Day. The only way I could console myself was by thinking how I could dress casual for the rest of the month. No need to get all those old nice clothes out of the closet.

It’s obvious I had no idea what to expect being assigned jury duty. So, I was pleasantly surprised when they started talking about paying us…that morning. When my name was called, I walked up and collected my fifteen dollars like a proud pimp who took walking lessons from a chicken. Can anybody say cha ching? That’s right. Lunch from McDonald’s was paid baby.

The next thing I didn’t expect to hear was that I wasn’t going to serve every day I was assigned on jury duty. Most people arranged for the month off and employers had to pay them even though they were getting paid by the court. When I heard that, it didn’t seem to me like such a bad deal. But, my life doesn’t work that way. I’m my own boss. I have to generate my own income whether I approve of myself serving on a jury or not. So, I get to spend a day in the courtroom and then come home to an entire night of catch up on my growing pile of work. No getting out of it.

So, I hope everyone resolves their problems before they go to court because I’d like to make that call every evening and find out that I don’t have jury duty the next day. Just a thought! Take the plea bargain. Drop the case. Do whatever you have to do! It will work out great for me thanks.

The first case was an easy leave for me and I was out of there by eleven in the morning. CSX was getting sued by a former employee. He was hurt on the job. There were workers compensation terms thrown around and some medical claims terms as well. All I knew was that I was gone. As soon as the judge asked any of the panel if they have family or friends who work for or have worked for CSX, my hand shot straight up without hesitation.

“Yes sir.” I looked around the room and found half of the panel with their hands in the air as well. After all, we are a railroad town.

“Can I ask you who you know who has worked for the railroad now or in the past?”

“My grandfather retired from the railroad over twenty years ago.”

“Do you think that will affect your abilities to serve on the jury?”

“It sure will. You bet it would.”

“Ok, make a note that Michael Allen has been excused from this case.”

I’m going home. I’m out of here. I don’t have to do it today. My dancing and singing was cut short by the next few words. “But, remain seated until I dismiss all of the excused jurors together.”

So, I sat down. Still happy. But, a little irritated. My irritation grew worse with each new question.

“Has anyone ever conducted any business with CSX…has anyone ever received workers compensation…has anyone ever filed a medical claim against the company where they work or have worked in the past…has anyone ever been on any of the railroad yards in the surrounding area…”

Now, I didn’t see too many hands go up throughout the entire questioning process. But on that one, I expected to see more hands go up than what did. Three hands went up and everyone else sat still. I thought if I hadn’t already been excused, my hand would have been raised. “Has anyone ever been on any of the railroad yards in the surrounding area?”

Are you kidding me? I think if you live anywhere around here, you’ve been on the railroad yard. You partied there when you were a kid. You’ve walked across the yard at one time or another just to get across. If you’ve delivered food for any of the restaurants, you’ve been on the yard. If you’ve ever been in any delivery job whatsoever, you’ve been on the yard. If you’re a cab driver, you’ve been on the yard.

But, that wasn’t the worst. The questions went on and on and on…irritation growing. Why didn’t they just let us go as they excused us? It didn’t make any sense. But really, whatever has in my experience with the court system and law enforcement as a whole? Still considering law school though, it might help me figure it all out before I die. And the questions kept coming.

“Has anyone ever worked in a court house…has anyone ever worked for any lawyers…has anyone ever worked for any judges…has anyone ever worked for any doctors…has anyone worked for any medical claims department…does anyone know any of the witnesses…”

I thought I was going to start hearing, “Has anyone ever seen a train…has anyone ever touched a court house door…has anyone ever been to the hospital…”

They did narrow down the crew quite well though. But, it was based on whether you thought your contact with such entities would affect your ability to be fair serving as a juror. One guy stood up seven times. He was involved with CSX. He had been on the yard. He had family that worked at CSX. He had filed a claim. He had been on a union. He was all over that case and he kept saying it wasn’t going to affect his abilities to serve on the jury. Now after all that, you really think that it’s not going to affect his abilities to serve on the jury?

Can you see him during the deliberations? “Now, the way it was when I had that contract with CSX, and I know this because my father and my uncle told me before they retired, we file a claim with the union before we walk through the yard. I’ll call my judge father-in-law and ask what he thinks, but my nurse aunt knows that…” He was all over that case in every direction he could imagine and saying none of it was going to affect him. I just don’t see how.

Man I was happy when they finally picked six and sent the rest of us home. I grabbed McDonald’s on the way, got out of my suit and sat down in front of my computer to start my real job. I was off jury duty for the day and I’m not sure if I’ll even have to serve at all.

I know most guilty people, which means I know the innocent ones too. I know the states attorneys. I’ve chilled with judges in card games. And I know all the arresting officers. I don’t think I’ll be on an jury any time soon.

What Are Your Thoughts?