I had to report for jury duty this week.
It wasn’t something I was looking forward to, but it was my civic responsibility, so I dutifully showed up at the Bell County Criminal Justice Complex on Monday morning, along with about 500 fellow prospective jurors.
By 8:45, we had filled a large, first-floor courtroom to await the start of the jury selection process.
If you’ve ever been summoned for jury duty, you know how it works: The potential jurors are given an oath by a judge, who thanks them for their service. Then a court employee gathers up everyone’s juror information cards, which are taken out and shuffled. After that, the prospective jurors’ names are called and they are separated into jury pools for the final jury selection process.
It can be time consuming, especially when people show up late or don’t bring their jury information cards with them.
Two things stood out for me at Monday’s jury call. One was how many people stood in line to ask the judge to be excused or have their jury service reset. The other was how grumpy some of the folks were during the whole process.
Let’s face it, unless you’re really bored or are a huge “Law & Order” fan, most people aren’t too keen on being selected for a jury. In some criminal cases, the trial can last three days or more, and not everyone has that kind of time.
Still, I had a hard time believing that more than 40 people had a legitimate reason for asking the judge to be excused Monday. Maybe that’s why the rest of us got a little grumpy.
I’ve only been selected for a jury twice since turning 18 more than 40 years ago.
The first time, I got picked for a jury in a sexual assault trial just days after I graduated from college in Illinois.
All I wanted to do after graduation was to sleep late for a few weeks, but instead I had to get up at the crack of dawn and drive 15 miles to sit in an un-air-conditioned courtroom to hear three days’ worth of sometimes intense testimony.
I have to admit, I actually got into the trial as it went along, but by the time it was over, I wasn’t eager to do it again soon.
I didn’t get picked for another jury until several years after I moved to Texas. I got picked for a jury in Belton, but the trial was set for the little town of Holland, in a justice of the peace courtroom. So again, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and drive a long way to assume my duties as a juror.
This time, however, the scene wasn’t a musty old courthouse, but a small office with lots of taxidermied animal heads on the wall. Instead of a formal jury box, the jurors sat behind a folding table to hear the case and the judge had a small desk up front.
Oh, and this wasn’t exactly a major case, either. It was a soldier contesting a speeding ticket he had received on U.S. Highway 190. It was all over in about 90 minutes.
This week, we never got to the jury selection phase. As we waited outside the courtroom Monday, the defendant agreed to waive his right to a jury trial. The judge came out, thanked us for our time and dismissed us.
Being a newspaper editor, I probably wouldn’t have been picked anyway, but you never know.
My wife, on the other hand, seems to get chosen as a juror every time she’s called, including the last time she got jury duty, in June.
Actually, I think she secretly likes being a juror. Come to think of it, she is a pretty big “Law & Order” fan.