My daily trip out the front door straight ahead a few yards to reach the three-foot post cemented into the sidewalk that securely holds our correspondence receptacle, most often feels like pure joy. I get downright giddy at the prospect of finding unexpected treasures awaiting me each time I pull down the handle and peek inside. I especially look forward to letters sent by loved ones from their little corners of the world, and seasonal cards with greetings from friends and relatives. I also love discovering a catalog like “Uncommon Goods” always filled with unique and personalized gifts that I tend to buy, or a magazine such as “The Sun” whose stories penned by stellar writers nourish my mind and soul. Yes! These precious parcels are met with smiling eyes and a happy heart. They are most welcome, absolutely, anytime!
Now four weeks ago, however, I received something quite different. Something unlike my happy-to-see-you pieces. What it was, was, an official looking envelope, plain white, with a small cellophane window in which my name appeared. My full name, first, last, and even middle! There was a round black seal in the upper left-hand corner with a return address that I know is located 20.8 miles away. The thick blue line inked across its upper portion contained 35 letters and two punctuation marks all in white caps. They alerted me to the fact that my yearly friend was calling on me again. The letters spelled it out simply and concisely. IMPORTANT: JURY SUMMONS – OPEN IMMEDIATELY.
Although I’d like to say I greet this type of mail with the same enthusiasm as I do my desirous deliveries, in truth, I do not. But why?
During my working years, I gave myself a break about being less than excited upon receiving one of these missives, especially when teaching. Who could really blame me? I mean I believe wholeheartedly in doing my civic duty. And I would be paid. But, when managing a classroom, it meant I’d have to arrange for a sub and do what all teachers dread doing, and that is writing out sub plans! Ugh! Even though I am a planner and knew well in advance what I’d be serving up my students, how and when…relaying this information to someone else hasn’t always been appreciated or even…(gasp!) followed. There’s nothing worse than returning after an absence and hearing, “We had so much fun with Ms. So and So! All we did was play games and do art!” Oh goodie.
From my journal: December 23, 2014, Newbury Park, California
“No jury duty this week! Hooray! Have been so stressed about this for way too long. I already postponed it once…I didn’t want to have to go to L.A. Superior Court during my winter break…I need the time off. It’s one thing to have to go to Ventura, but downtown L.A…lucked out.”
But now I have the time, so what is my excuse? What’s my explanation for not wanting to wear my juror badge and offer my help with the maintenance of law and order and defend equity among my compatriots? Maybe it’s the 41.6-mile round trip I’d have to make to fulfill my obligation. But the trek to the Ventura County Government Center is a straight shot, an easy one. And its located in a beautiful setting with swaying palm trees and gentle walking paths. A calming fountain flows near outdoor benches that invite people to take a break and bask in the sun for just a bit.
Perhaps it’s that I like my routines and the schedule of activities I create for myself each week. But just because I’d rather be doing something else, does that make it ok not to want to go?
Or is it the voir dire that I dislike? That’s the “speak the truth” process in which one has to offer background and personal information to the court. No, it can’t be that. As I recall, during one interview, the judge told us how much he had adored his 2nd grade teacher, after I shared that I taught that grade. He and the attorneys agreed elementary teachers were the best, so I actually felt warmed by their comments.
The only other thing I can think of is that I’d have to listen attentively to the plaintiff and defendant sides of “what happened” and then participate in making a decision based on the law. But listening to others, then rendering my thoughts after carefully weighing the facts, and considering the circumstances, is what I live for! Just ask any family member, friend, colleague, or student who has ever said to me, “Hey…do you have a minute?” I’m always ready with notebook and pen in hand.
So, I’m truly mystified, especially in light of my experience this past week. While I usually pick a date to go, this time I was “on call”. Because the courts were only open three days due to Thanksgiving, I thought, “How likely is it that I’ll have to go in?” Well, it so happens that my group was called to report on Wednesday, the day before the holiday. Feeling a little put out that I’d have to get up at 5:30 a.m. mainly to ensure I could enjoy my morning routine before heading to court, I begrudgingly prepared my tote the previous evening. Water, bag of mixed nuts, murder mystery, writing paper, pencils, pens, chap stick, ear plugs, wallet, sunglasses, and keys. All the while, I was thinking of how I’d rather be home preparing cornbread dressing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce.
Parking in Lot A, I stepped through the front door of the Hall of Justice a half hour before our duty was to officially begin. Through Security in no time, I was fifth in line to enter the jury room. Due to the pandemic, I quickly caught on that the procedures had changed. First, I didn’t have to sit in the crowded rows of seating – I was “assigned” a whole table – to myself! Second, we were told no one was allowed to talk on their phone in the jury room. I wouldn’t be needing my ear plugs after all! Third, drinks with lids were okay now, as well as small snacks at our seats. I had everything in reach! And the best news of all? Jurors now only have to be present for four hours instead of a full day. Bonus!
After our orientation, I spread out my belongings and began working on a writing project. So comfy and focused, I hadn’t even noticed the passage of time. And only one hour and 50 minutes into our service, we were dismissed. I cheered like everyone else, as we funneled out into the parking lot.
So, what’s wrong with me? What is my problem? Why don’t I jump at the chance to take part in this process each year that I am summoned? Maybe…nothing. Maybe I don’t have a problem. Perhaps, I am like most people. Just like the 75.6% of people who admit they, too, do not like to go to jury duty, but still believe in our justice system and its effectiveness, viewing this civic duty as a necessary inconvenience. Maybe, I’m okay after all.