Jury Duty

Last August, I was due for Jury Duty. As I was instructed by the form mailed to me, I called an information hotline the night before and was told that I wasn’t needed.

I breathed a little sigh of relief because, though in April 2010, I was very moved by a Common pleas judge imploring residents to take jury duty seriously (saying: “People with jobs do everything they can to get out, so who do you think is left?”), I was equally nervous about taking a day off from work and how behind that would put me.

But then I got a notice again in April for a June date. Dutifully I called again, but this time I was told to report, which I did, Friday, June 7 to the Criminal Justice Center in Center City Philadelphia.

We filled out a survey of our prejudices, watched an endlessly outdated video in a big room filled with at least a couple hundred people and were divided up into groups of 18 or so to go to various courtrooms in that building and in City Hall. In the courtroom, we were all asked followup questions to our survey and then if we felt we had reason enough to not be part of the jury, we were asked to raise our hands and speak privately with the attorneys and the judge.

We were asked specifically to not use work as an excuse — everyone has work ,we were told, but I felt running my own business was different. I didn’t have someone who could fill in for me. That wasn’t received well. Maybe because I was preceded by a surgeon, or maybe because I seemed like a pompous kid whose business wasn’t entirely understood — “is it like a newspaper or like a blog?” I was asked, but I commanded to report for duty on Monday — I read the FAQs in preparation.

I was told by a friend that reporters might legitimately be able to suggest they are impartial because they follow the news so closely, but I felt uncomfortable pushing too hard, given my feeling it was a civic duty of sorts. Given how small-time this case was, I doubt that would have be seen as serious anyway.

It was a three-day trial involving a car accident and request for monetary damages. We heard a lot of testimony, listened to the phrase”with reasonable degree of medical certainty” a lot, the court bought us pizza on the final day so we could deliberate and, in the end, we decided in favor of the defendants. The judge, who apparently had a reputation but seemed friendly enough in the courtroom, came to see us as we were leaving, thanked us and told us that, overall, he agreed with our assessment. (He thought one of the defendants deserved some blame, which I had agreed with but during conversations with my fellow jurors felt I lacked enough legal certainty to fight much). We also were paid — in Pennsylvania, you are paid $9 per day for the first three days and $27 a day afterward.

It required a lot of extra after-hours work and it was surely frustrating for my cofounder, whom I passed on a few business calls and other meetings, but I did my civic duty and now, as the judge told us, I’ve earned a three-year stay from future jury work. In that, a three-day trial seems OK, and I feel a little bit better by not lying  my way out of service.

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