Why I love jury duty (and you can too)

Jury Duty in black and white

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Thoreau

425 people on 17 screens. That’s what jury duty is like now.

We are invited, we Zoom, and we wait. In the past, when I attended jury duty in a municipal building, I loved the enforced study hall. I couldn’t see clients, but I could invoice! Read! Prepare my taxes! I loved the civic duty combined with an attack of the Task List.

This time was different. There were so many faces! So many people in my very own county I didn’t know. There were ministers and firefighters, retirees and teachers, young mothers, hedge fund investors, chefs, musicians and pro athletes.

And there was our host. She was informative, kind, patient and affable. She shared wisdom from her mama “You can’t choose the circumstance but you can choose your attitude,” and asked every student, “How are you doing in school?”

I just loved her. I loved her gusto and her commitment to The Work. And after lunch, when I had the opportunity to ask a question (“Any idea how long the day might go, like a range? I know you can’t be exact, but are we talking 10 PM or 2PM”). The response: “Guuuuuurl. We’re government workers. And if any of you are, I mean no disrespect, but there’s no way we’re here past 4:30. I can’t tell you more than that.”

Maybe now you love her a little bit too. I hope so.

At this point she had fielded a lot of, well bullshit excuses that people bring to jury duty as well a lot of tech questions “this is my first time on Zoom”. Many people were addressed as “iPhone” or by their relatives name because “oh, this is my son’s computer, can you help me change the name?”

She fielded these questions with patience and grace, and I marveled at her. I took my 2 minutes of fame to tell her that I appreciated her kindness and patience and generosity and humor. I did this in front of all 425.

And my friends, you know what happened next?

Course ya do.

The pile on was tangible. People asked if they could leave her Yelp reviews, asked for her managers email so they could say how great she was. The love just flowed, she laughed and smiled and we all just had fun.

And then the judge came on.

Group of multiethnic business people in witness stand of court house

And every time I have a day of jury duty (I always get dismissed since I run my own business and the court considers it “financial hardship” to serve without pay), I really want to stay on and serve. I’ll likely never get to thanks to stints as an investigator for the Public Defender Service of DC, and an intern probation officer role at the Tompkins Count Probation Department.

But I’m curious. I’m curious about the system, the protocols and how it works.

Beyond my wonderful host (and moment of appreciation with 425 of my new besties), I notice that this time they added an extensive movie about bias and what it means and how you can be more aware of it. In addition, the judge also spend 5-10 minutes describing bias in a way that didn’t shame anyone, but raised awareness. Inviting folks to be aware of, acknowledging everyone has it, and encouraging people to remove themselves if they can’t separate themselves from the bias that would have an impact on their ability to honestly and justly review the facts of the case.

With so much pain, hate, and injustice in our country and world right now, I felt glad to see this move forward, acknowledging and educating all citizens about the nature of impact of bias.

Progress isn’t a straight line. It’s jagged as all get out. But this week’s jury service had me on a joyful incline. I hope yours brings the same.

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