On Tuesday, I spent a morning fulfilling my civic duty, though I did not, sadly, get to fulfill a dream of actually sitting on a jury.
I’d been notified, several weeks ago, that my (voter registration) number had come up, and I was being summoned to jury duty.
I looked at the date and groaned. The timing was terrible, in terms of my job as communications person at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles, with a big conflict in terms of staffing.
No matter. Turns out that when you fill out the online paperwork you can request a date change. You have to give a reason—you can’t just say, “I don’t feel like it,”—but I explained the situation and selected an alternative date on which I could serve. My request was granted. I was deferred for about five weeks.
I got there early, because I hate to be late, and my sole experience thus far at the Kane County Judicial Center had been going there with one of my kids for a speeding ticket and being part of a very, very long line at security.
Instead, I breezed in, followed the signs, and a fellow juror, and found myself in the room for jurors only. The large space is lightyears removed from the space I remembered at the Third Street courthouse 20 years before. The new jurors’ room has a large number of sofas, lots of end tables filled with reading materials, tables, including some with outlets for laptops; not to mention coffee, doughnuts and soft drinks. Television sets hung from the ceiling, though all were off at 7:40 in the morning. (In fact, all stayed off the whole time we were there, except for showing the movie about jury duty and the judicial process.)
Speaking of the movie, many of the 35 to 40 people gathered ignored it. The woman sitting near me browsed the “Pinterest” website instead. Since much of the day thus far had been consumed with waiting, I did enjoy the part about how we should “expect periods of waiting.”
And Kane County does make the “periods of waiting” about as enjoyable as they can be. There was coffee, water and soda, doughnuts, newspapers and magazines. Wireless access helps enormously. Probably five people used iPads (the woman next to me switched to solitaire) and a bunch, including me, had brought laptops and work. All around, people used their electronics or read, and a fair number spent some time simply staring into space. And you’ve never heard so much silence.
At about 10:15 or so, more than two hours after our 8 a.m. reporting time, a bailiff finally came in and said jurors were requested in Courtroom 209. A long list of names was read. People gathered their belongings, got their “juror” badges and departed with the man in uniform.
Perhaps a dozen of us were left. We were told we had to be held until a jury (apparently for a misdemeanor case; no felony cases were scheduled, a bailiff told me) was chosen upstairs to be sure we weren’t needed.
We began to wait once more, though now we at least had the promise of lunch in an hour. Then the lunch call came. We were sent downstairs to grab box lunches (a variety of meats on a variety of breads, with a variety of snacks and drinks from which to choose). No sooner had we returned to our room than we got the all-clear. Within minutes, nearly everyone had cleared out. A few people, me included, stayed to finish our lunch first.
In the end, I spent nearly four hours on jury duty, though really, more than that, in terms of the disruption to my normal routine. No matter. It was a small price to pay to guarantee the freedoms we all, in theory at least, enjoy. I’ve known a few people who have served on juries; at least two said that while they were initially irked at the idea of “wasted time,” they found it a fascinating experience they were glad they’d had.
I double-checked on my way out to confirm that, yes, I was done, until the next time my name was pulled.
“I wouldn’t have minded serving on a jury,” I told the bailiff.
“Call the jury commission and put your name back in,” he advised.
I’m not sure he wasn’t kidding me. And I’m not sure I’m not kidding myself about my eagerness to put my life on hold. It’s one thing to answer the call when you get it. It’s another thing to make the call yourself. So we’ll see ...