Serving As A Federal Juror - Part 1
"Sex, lies and videotapes" that's what my recent experience serving on a jury for the U.S. District Court in Baltimore seemed like.
Not since the early 1970's had I chosen to sit on a "panel of peers" to render judgment on fellow Americans. In the spring of this year the court notified me that I might be called upon to serve and to respond as to whether or not I was able.
Being semi-retired I didn't have any pressing issues to keep me from serving. Besides the last time I served, over 30 years ago, I actually enjoyed participating in the American legal system as a juror. Also, the chance of actually being chosen was slim.
In the mail in October came the official notice that for the month of November I needed to set aside time for jury duty. (Now, for those of you who think you are safe because you have never registered to vote - think again. The courts now use licensed driver records from which to pull your name, so go ahead and register to vote or don't drive.)
For those who have served you can skip this part, but for those who have never served or never sat on a jury, read on. The new automated systems allow you to call in ahead of your schedule report date(s) to see if you need to report, generally on a Monday morning.
My first call-in on Friday evening October 29th gave me the good news. After putting in my juror ID number, I was told did not need to report on Monday November 1st One week down, four to go.
The next Friday, November 5th, I put in my juror ID number, but as luck would have it I was told to report on Monday November 8th, but not the first thing in the morning (Hurray! I wouldn't have to do the early morning commute routine!) but oddly at 12:45 P.M. My first hint that odds were shifting.
Monday I took a leisurely drive in, parked the car at a $12 a day garage (as opposed to the $15 garages closer to the courthouse) and walked the four blocks, past the newly renovated Hippodrome Theater to federal court.
After a briefing in the jury assembly room for about an hour, all 36 of us went to Courtroom 3A, the Honorable William Quarles, presiding. Upon entering the courtroom I looked at the array of lawyers both at the plaintiff and defendant tables and their support people lined up behind them and thought: "This is not a good omen."
The judge proceeded to explain the basics of the civil suit and countersuit and then said: "The court expects this trial will take 10 days, will this cause any hardship, if so please stand." Well about one half of the prospective jurors stood. Each one, in turn, had to proceed to the bench and explain why they could not or should not serve.
Then the judge went on to question us if we knew any of the litigants or potential witnesses and went on to read for over five minutes what seemed like 40 names. Another ill omen. Luckily, no one seems to know anyone on the list.
Finally, the judge asked several questions relating to a potential juror relationship with a host of governmental agencies, relatives of these agencies and so on. Again, jurors came forward to explain these relationships, like being a former policeman or working for Homeland Security or a sister-in-law in nursing.
After all this, some potential jurors were dismissed by the bench and those of us, about 20 some odd, remained. The attorneys and their teams were now given the right to strike individuals for the list. The attorney lists were given to the Clerk of the Court and a final list was given the judge.
Then by juror ID number the panel was chosen. Yours truly was sworn in and would forever be known as juror Number 4, out of nine chosen. A new opportunity was now before me.
With 5 P.M. looming, the judge mentioned that he had another case to finish up on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and that we should report back on Wednesday at 2 P.M.
This didn't seem that it would be too bad after all. On Wednesday we were seated and given our first set of instructions and began to hear testimony. As luck would have it Thursday was a federal holiday - Veterans Day - and we had the day off. Hey, I can handle this.
Friday then began what would end up being four-and-a-half days of testimony. Long days, mentally tiring, occasionally humorous. However, most often I was just trying to unravel claims and counterclaims from conflicting testimony from a parade of witnesses. When it was all done, I had taken over 40 pages of notes.
After a considerable set of instructions from the judge we retired to deliberate.