A Worry of My Peers
by Jan Baughman

The time: 12:35; the place: the Jury Assembly Room. The statistician in me is fascinated by this rare opportunity to observe a true cross-section of driver license-yielding registered voters who may save or condemn a life. Perhaps one day it will even be mine. I came a bit early in order to watch. My peers are slowly arriving, and they are frightening.

Simple instructions are difficult to follow, such as "park in the jury parking lot" and "arrive at 12:45" and "appear at the Redwood City Hall of Justice". One woman can't find her name on the list and asks the clerk for help. The clerk advises her that she was supposed to appear in San Francisco. "The directions on the map were to Redwood City", my peer retorts, submiting the map as evidence. The clerk turns it over and shows my peer the map to San Francisco, and kindly advises her that since she is here, she can stay if she likes.

Only about half of my peers dressed appropriately, as instructed. One of my peers doesn't speak English. "You'll have to explain that to the judge", advises the clerk. That should be interesting. One doesn't need to speak English to become a citizen, though fulfilling civic duties can be problematic. We need special juries who can be the peers of non-English speaking criminals.

One of my peers is a twenty-something dude who forgot he had to work today. "Nice try", the clerk thinks to herself. "You need to call your boss and tell him you have jury duty". Some peers brought their work with them, such as the guy with a laptop on a luggage cart -- I surmise that he is trying to be dismissed for reason of insanity. The same holds true for the middle-aged gentleman reading "Emotional Intelligence".

It's 1:05 and orientation finally begins. "You have been summonsed..." the clerk begins. (Summonsed? I'm distracted by this word and I add it to my vocabulary list and will confirm its correctness when I get home.) "...there are five conditions you must meet to serve on jury duty: you must be a U.S. citizen, you must be 18 or older, you can't be a convicted felon (how can a repeat offender ever get a fair trial if his peers can't serve on jury duty?), you must be a resident of San Mateo County, and you can't have served within the last year. Now, some of you have talked to me about reasons you can't serve today, such as child care, job conflicts, religious beliefs. You must present these reasons to the judge; I can only dismiss you on the five conditions I first presented. As for religious beliefs, if you are selected to serve as a juror, you will only be asked to evaluate the facts presented to you. The man up there will decide the bigger issues." Thank God the separation of Church and State is intact and functioning properly.

Sixty of my peers were selected. I wander around and observe my unchosen peers, looking for something interesting to write about them. I give up, and instead do some paperwork that I brought along. Then I finish my book, "Le Divorce" by Diane Johnson (which, interestingly, none of my peers are reading) and all the while, I'm fulfilling my civic duty. At 4:30 we are dismissed and I return home to my dictionary.

"Summonsed: To serve a court summons to". I learned a few things from my peers today, and a new word to boot. I summoned up a smile, and sat down to write about it...

Published August 16, 1997
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