Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Jury Duty

There Must Be A Better Way

I was called to serve jury duty yesterday...one day, or one trial.  I was an interesting and tedious experience.

I arrived about 15 minutes early at the courthouse, to wait in line for my notice/number to be processed. Then we all--close to 300 jurors--herded into a big assembly room for orientation. There was a bit of speechmaking, a video explaining how juries worked, and then a judge came in to swear us all in.

After that, we sat and waited for our names and numbers to be called as part of a jury panel to go before a specific judge for selection.

I was called in the second group. I was actually quite pleased as I figured that would be a most interesting experience in the courtroom. Ushered in, we found about six jurors already seated in the jurors's box. I think they had been selected last week. That left our "pool" of perhaps forty more people who could be selected.

The judge explained the basics of the case. It was a medical malpractice suit which would be very interesting, but the catch was that the trial was going to be long--nearly a month, with an ending date of October 3 or so. That was a worry. I have a doctor's appointment to get some surgery on my eyelid on later in September and I'd already waited for a month to get that scheduled. When I tried to change it earlier, there was nothing available until well into October. Until then, I can't wear my contact lenses and it's driving me a bit batty already. OK, so that was a problem.

Then as well all sat in complete silence, the judge began to call up potential jurors. He and the two lawyers went to the side of the courtroom with each juror, turned off the microphones and began talking. Sometimes this when on for ten minutes. Then the juror was either dismissed or sent to sit in the jurors box.  After about two more jurors were seated up front, the judge started asking questions aloud for all of us to hear, quizzing each of the seated jurors about: employment, family, what TV shows they watched, where they got their news, what bumper stickers they had on their cars, and what they did in their spare time. All this, apparently gives the lawyers for each side a chance to decide if the juror will be fair to his side of the case. Every now and then, the judge would ask one of the lawyers if he objected to one of the jurors and over and over, jurors were dismissed and a new name and number was called up for the private quiz.

Again, at some random point, the judge had each lawyer introduce himself, his clients and other members of the firm there. Then the judge gave a brief overall explanation that the trial was about a patient suing a doctor over some kind of treatment for a bad back where the client was claiming the doctor had been negligent and the doctor claimed it was the patient's fault for not following instructions or something like that.

After a few more jurors were called up for the "white noise " sidebar conferences. (They turned the mike off and replaced it with the sound of static.)  The judge then asked one of the paneled members a series of questions designed to test their impartiality.  "Have you ever had reason to sue a doctor? Have you ever had steriod injections?" Now my ears pricked up again. Not only am I under a chiropractor's care, but I have had numerous steroid injections in my knees. Then he asked if the juror's decision might be influenced by having sympathy for another's pain. Oops...as my hip muscle cramped up just about a minute later, I knew I'd fall short on that question too.

This all went on...as we sat in complete silence...until about 1:45 when the judge gave us a one hour lunch break.  I went out with a fellow juror--a young nursing student who was starting her first brand new job next week. We had a nice time at a neat little pub having hamburgers and then headed back for....

More of the same. My young friend was called up just a bit before I was, and she must have explained about her new job, because the judge dismissed her soon after.  At about 3:15, my name and number were called.
When I got up there the judge--a youngish guy with a really nice, friendly and open personality, by the way--asked if I had any problem with the duration of the trial. I explained about my scheduled eye surgery. He laughed and said, "Wouldn't you rather be here than having surgery? You'd learn a lot." While I agreed with that, I also told him I really did want the surgery and had already been waiting too long for it. He grinned, as did the two lawyers and I was excused.

Off I went, back downstairs to the nearly empty assembly room. There they took my juror's badge and told me I was free to go home. I didn't need a letter of proof of service, to I headed all the way down a few blocks to the parking garage, put my validated parking ticket in the machine only to be told I owed $19 for parking. Something was wrong since jurors were not supposed to have to pay.

I hiked back to the courthouse to find out that the machines at that garage had been acting up all day. They gave me a letter and told me to buzz the attendant on the way out of the garage and he'd let me out.

I hiked back to the garage--well at least I got my workout in--finally found my car--just a little tricky as I don't quite recognize my new car easily yet, hopped in an began driving the maze to the out gate. There the attendant didn't even bother looking at my letter. He too knew the machines had been acting up and trusted me.

Off I went out into the streets of New Brunswick trying to remember how to navigate my way to some street I knew....used to go to college there. Vague memory and my GPS got me back out onto the highway home only to find traffic backed up for miles. They have been doing construction on one stretch there for well over a year and it's a real mess. Not sure why as there is no construction going on at the moment, but the lanes are all fouled up and it is just a mess. Fortunately, there is a side road I could get off onto without too much trouble, so I did and wound my way back home through country roads. It's slower driving, but not at all congested.

Now, all that questioning in the courtroom and the long sidebars, while 40 people sit in silence with nothing to do? The questions are posted on the judiciary website. Might there be a way to get jurors to answer them ahead of time? In this age of computers, I would think answers could be scanned and sorted somehow, allowing judge and lawyers to eliminate people who do not meet their standards and whittle the pool down to those who really would make good jurors.

It would have been interesting to see if the lawyers or judge would have accepted me as a juror. I watch and listen to liberal news stations, watch lots of crime/detective shows on TV, and I have a fairly substantial understanding of many medical procedures/medications, etc. I also have back issues of my own, so I know how painful that can be and how debilitating. I am honestly not sure I would have been a good member of that jury as I might have been too informed about the issues.

All I do know is that I came home totally exhausted from doing almost nothing all day except sit silently in a chair for nearly 6 hours,


  1. I've been in the same spot as you when I was called as a potential juror. I felt it was really a waste of a day. There should be a better system like you say for selecting jurors. But it is what it is I guess.

  2. I had heard about american jury selection, and i have always thought it sounds like a right lottery. how anyone expects to know who will or not be favourable to one side or the other on the basis of such questions is beyond me. We don't do that over here - well, we do have selection, but generally someone can only be canned from a jury for a really good cause. Also, of course, we don't have juries for civil trials like that, it's judge only. so it all goes a lot quicker. Also, we then get a reasoned decision which we can appeal if necessary, much more difficult to do on jury trial where you don't know anything about what findings of fact were made etc.

  3. What a long day, and for nothing. Glad that you were dismissed so you can finally get the eye surgery.