There are few events for an American citizen as rewarding as serving with his or her fellow citizens on jury duty. Doctors, lawyers, professors, postal workers, small business workers, and every other citizen all share in the common good that jury service requires. On Tuesday January 22, 2013, your customer service reporter did his civic duty and fulfilled his responsibility as a fifth generation American and stood in the freezing cold 22 degree temperatures and waited to enter the august District of Columbia Superior Courthouse on 500 Indiana Avenue, N.W. to serve on jury duty after living in seven decades as an American citizen.
This, dear reader, is a report on one of the most memorable experiences of three decades in the District of Columbia. Having never served on jury duty, the experience was new and from the moment the writer entered the security check point, it become clear that this type of service to the government is one of the most important requirements of being a citizen. Even the summons is addressed to the citizen. There are some who dread jury duty. Many feel that it is an unfair demand on time and money. However, the experience in superior court last week was more than a weekly interruption in a writing schedule; it was the basis of a determination of a life and death matter. Although it is forbidden to discuss the trial. The process of serving on a jury is clearly an experience that every American citizen should be exposed to at least once in their lifetime.
The experience this past week was a good one. The staff of DC Superior Court made numerous calls to answer the writer's questions after it was explained that this was a first time situation. The main concern was disrupting court proceedings with frequent trips to the men's room after double hernia surgery in 2009. The staff was magnanimous in explaining that the judge would allow recesses and breaks and there would be special accommodations made if necessary. The Superior Court staff gave excellent customer service.
Sitting inside the court room for the first time gave the writer a sense of appreciation for the unique American system of justice. As the judge calmly and sincerely explained the importance of jury service all of the excuses and reasons not to serve were subjugated, as the judge made it clear that anyone trying to avoid jury service with lies or phoney excuses was committing a serious crime. Jury duty is mandated in the United States Constitution. All citizens are guaranteed the right to trial by jury.
The design and construction of the Moultrie courthouse which began construction in 1975, when the present writer was a journalism major at Northeastern Oklahoma State University, and was completed in 1977 before many who were called were born. Yet the tradition of service lives on. The marvel of courthouse design nearly 40 years ago remains an impressive structure in 2013. There are convenient restroom facilities on every floor. The judge gave 15 minutes breaks to allow quick trips to the men's room. It was no inconvenience at all. The thought of not serving on jury duty quickly was replaced with the importance of participating in the process.
The lunch break was a pleasant hour long and jurors were told not to discuss the trial and to report back to the courtroom in one hour. The judge made a comment about the human portion of the system. Invariably there will be people who will be late returning from breaks and from lunch. The person who is late holds up the court process. The judge had to wait for the late person to return before proceeding. The way to avoid being late is not to leave the courthouse building for lunch. The present writer avoided being late to return to the courthouse by having lunch in the cafe that is provided by the courthouse. It is called the Fishhook Cafe and it is located on the basement floor. It only takes a few minutes to get there from the courtroom. The service was fast and the meal was good. It took 15 minutes rather than an hour and left plenty of time to return to the judges chambers without being late.
Although courtroom protocol requires that jurors never discuss a trial or any information given by the judge. It is safe to say that the present writer's first judge was the very paragon of jurisprudence as it should be. His instructions were clear, he answered all questions and his manner was serious yet sensitive to the concerns of a first time juror. The judge was aware that most people dislike jury duty. But he explained that the process would work if every juror respected the procedure. The experience last week was an eye opening window on what it means to be part of a democracy.
Sooner or later every American will be called on to serve jury duty. Before thinking of ways and excuses to avoid service think of this. Judge Lee F. Satterfield has made it clear that all DC residents are warned that failure to report for jury duty will lead to an arrest warrant being issued. Please be advised that by law jury service is compulsory. The summons that the present writer received from the DC Superior Court was very clear, "Dear Citizen, you have randomly been chosen by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to perform a vital service to you community-Jury Duty. Please complete and return the enclosed juror qualifications form immediately upon receipt. Unless the Court notifies you otherwise, report for service on the date indicated on the summons. Visit our website at www.dccourts.gov/jurorservices to complete the qualification form online."
"I look forward to having you serve. The Court will attempt to make your experience as pleasant as possible. For an expanded version of this document with other important information, please visit our Web site at www.dccourts.gov/jury. Click on "About Your Jury Duty," Duane B. Delaney, Clerk of the Court. Well the experience was pleasant. Now there will be two years before the pleasure to serve the community arrives again. Perhaps your summons is in the mail. Be sure to respond to the summons.
Happy Jury Duty, America