Juried Rite Of Of Passage
Our Intrepid Intern Reporter Gets Pulled
Into The Trbe Depths Of Civil Duty ...
By Eric H
It hadn't been ten months since I registered to vote in
Ulster County when I was pegged with a summons for jury
duty. At age 19, I had frankly expected that my name would
kick around the pool of eligible citizens for at least a
few years before I was selected for this particular duty.
Nonetheless, there was the summons; loudly exclaiming "'Wetcome
to jury service in Ulster County! " as if the letter would
inspire enthusiasm in its recipients.
Actually, in my case it did inspire some feelings. Like
dread, and the desire to be unavailable for "the term of
service." A term of service consists of "one trial or one
Regardless of, my reservations, I called in to find
out when I had been called to appear and went to the Ulster
County court house on the specified date to perform my honorable
Some 200 potential jurors were seated in a courtroom, being
processed in a classroom style roll call. To say that some
of the juror group held disgruntled dispositions would be
an understatment. Everyone had a generally displeased appearance,
ranging from "resigned to hours of inescapable boedom"
to "hostile and looking for an object of blame".
I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group,
and certainly the youngestin appearance. A few minutes late,
I took a seat between a man who was clearly running on a
short fuse, and an older woman who appeared prepared for
a state of deep sleep just a few minutes into the process.
After the clerk had finished attendance, Commissioner of
Jurors Richard M. addressed the group, explaining the
process and fielding questions. After patiently answering
a few combative, pointed questions from the more belligerent
jurors, he split US up for the trials we could be potentially
It had barely been 20 minutes before we were informed that
our trial had settled and that we were dismissed. We were
thanked, and assured that it'was our presence that had caused
the settlement. It was fairly painless, compared to what
most people seemed to be gearing up for.
Still, even after appeanng once, each juror is, required
to call in each night of the week they serve to find out
if they are to appear the next day.
Of course, once wasnt enough. I was called back three days
later, and three days later I was sitting among the same
group, albeit a slightly angrier and more impatient group.
This day, one tardy gentleman was asked for his juror number,
which he confidehtlyproclaimed to be 210.
"We called up to 200. said the clerk. "I'm number
210... ohhhhhh. That's bad, " said the man, clearly embarrassed.
The discourse was met by a wave of laughter from the juror
group, who seemed cruelly amused. After all, the next worse
thing to showing up for jury duty when you have to is showing
up for jury duty when you don 't have to.
To his relief, he was informed he could stay and would
receive credit for his service.
Within ten minutes of roll call, we were informed that
we were supposed to be seated for a criminal case. This
plan was facing one minor roadblock: the plaintiff was on
the run. Apparently, to the bewilderment of his attorney,
and everyone else, the plaintiff had neglected to show up
and now was presumably in hiding. The judge had issued a
bench warrant for the, plaintiff, meaning the police were
to search for him. This meant we were done for the day.
This time, we were done for good.
Now it will be another four years before I'm eligible
for sevice again, without ever having been interviwed for
a jury. Pretty easy this time around.
Getting called for jury duty is surely an inconvenience.
People have jobs, and children to take care of, and their
time is valuable to them. This time seems to creep by at
a crawl even for short stints at the courthouse. The unhappiness
at getting called for jury duty is tempered by the patience
and understanding of people in charge of the jury
process, who no doubt routinely face the rancor of belligerent
I was truly impressed by the juror staff
and Commissioner M. We were treated like the only
jury pool to serve for the court, though
clearly the same speech is recited to a new jury every week,
and the same questions fielded. They
consistently went to lengths to assure us the importance
of our participation.
As Commissioner M. puts it on the letter accompanying
the summons, "Your participation in the jury process
is crucial as it helps to insure the individual rights
of everyone in the community. "
After all, if I were wrongfully tried for a crime, I would
want a jury of reasonable people to
help acquit me. Wouldn't you?