For the first time in my life, I’ve been called for jury duty. At one level, I’m happy to be part of an essential part of democracy, but at another, I’m annoyed at the disruption to the work I need to do.
Until the middle of this afternoon, I thought my jury duty would be over almost before it began. Yesterday, when I had to report to the Alameda County courthouse, I was called with 64 other citizens for selection for a civil case. All we had to do yesterday was fill out a questionnaire. The odds didn’t seem too bad: 12 jurors out of 65 people.
Today wasn’t so simple. Twelve of our number were called to the jury box and asked to elaborate on various responses they gave on the questionnaire. Until the judge asked one of the attorneys to speed things up, the voir dire was taking forever. Even with an improvement of tempo, we reached lunchtime only part of the way through the 12.
After lunch, things sped up. Once the questioning of the original 12 by the judge and attorneys for plaintiff and defence was over, various individuals were eliminated by one side or the other’s peremptory challenges. Eventually, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, there were no further challenges and the judge swore in the 12 members of the jury.
Phew, I thought. I won’t have to spend the next week in the courtroom. Wrong. The judge suggested the trial should have two alternates. So two more people were called. Still not me. But after two of the potential alternates were eliminated, I was called to seat number 13. I would have loved to have claimed some terrible prejudice that should rule me out of the jury, but I was honest. Sadly, no one objected and at about 3pm I was sworn in as an alternate for the jury.
When the judge dismissed the 30 or so people who had not been selected or already dismissed, there were a lot of happy faces. The judge commented, when the 14 jurors and alternates were the only people left, “I never understand why the people that leave are smiling. The smiles should be the people left in the jury box. It’s a great privilege to take part in such an important democratic process.”
I believe that theory, but I certainly didn’t feel like smiling today. We’ll see what next week brings.