Adventures In Civil Justice

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.”  Deuteronomy 16:18-19 (NKJV)

A week ago today, I reported to U.S. District court for jury duty. I have received jury summons in the past, but never to a federal court, and I never had to actually show up before. As this was a new experience, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. As juror number 51,  I felt that there was a reasonable chance of being chosen for something.

After checking in with the registrar at the desk, I received my packet of information about the day’s proceedings and sat down to wait for entrance into the juror assembly room. There was a lot of waiting that day; this was just the first of it.

At the magic hour of 8 a.m., those of us who had arrived and assembled, filed into a large room with many chairs. I would guess the room probably seated about two hundred, but the roughly thirty of us who were there, spread out all over the room in silence.  We proceeded to sit down and then wait some more. At the front of the room was a podium and included on the walls were the required elements to show everyone that this was a federal court. There was a spirit of solemnity in the room; the sense that we were about to do something really important and we should not be jovial about it.

About fifteen minutes after we entered the room, a gentleman walked up to the podium, proceeded to welcome us, and began to explain the paperwork we had received when we checked in.  We were told that, whether we were chosen or not, we remained “on call” for a total of six working days and were required each evening, after 6 p.m., to call or check online to find out whether or not we would be needed the next day.

Next, we filled out our “Expense Reimbursement Form.”  I knew that jurors received a small stipend, with reimbursement of expenses, so I was expecting this. After filling out all the required forms and handing them in, we were told that we would be watching a short orientation film about jury service. So far, so good.  I expected the usual patriotic type of video with many references to how we were serving our country and how we were part of the process of justice.  In that, the film was about what I expected. However, there was a strong, but subtle, attitude of condescension that ran through out it. The film included lengthy remarks by two Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

This condescending attitude did not come from Chief Justice Roberts, but rather Sandra Day O’Connor. She said all the right words, of course, but the attitude was decidedly elitist.  I should have expected that, but I didn’t.  I also expected the video to have high production values, but it didn’t. You would think that with all the money the U.S. government spends every year, a really good quality film for jurors would have been easy to accomplish. And yet, it wasn’t.  They lost a powerful opportunity to emotionally enlist everyone in that room using patriotic fervor. Instead of feeling good about service to my country and the process of justice, I felt vaguely disquieted, as if I was somehow being laughed at. I don’t know if others in the room felt the same way. Very few of us said more than a word or two to each other.  The whole process was not exactly conducive to social conviviality.

Prior to my arrival that day, I had made the assumption that juries would be chosen for multiple trials. This proved to be incorrect. Of the roughly thirty people who actually reported along with me that day, only twenty were chosen for voir dire. Those twenty appeared to be numbers one through twenty on the juror list. There were no questions, no nothing; they just called the first twenty. One trial, one jury (or to be more precise, one jury plus alternates).

After those twenty were called and given their juror numbers, we were told that all of us had to wait until the selected jurors were called upstairs to court. Then, those remaining would be dismissed as soon as it was determined that the first twenty would be able to serve.

While we were waiting, they did something that actually shocked me: they began handing out our expense reimbursement checks. I never expected that. I had fully expected those checks would be mailed to us after an appropriately inefficient amount of time. The federal government was actually exhibiting efficiency at something that didn’t involve taking money from me.

Obviously, my personal bias is clear here. In general, I have little trust in government bureaucrats. Generally, I have found them to be inefficient and less than helpful, with a penchant for enjoying the power they wield over those of us not included in their exalted ranks. Frustration has been more the rule than the exception in my past experiences with government employees.

After the chosen jurors were called upstairs, the rest of us sat around and waited some more until we were told that we were dismissed for the day (with renewed instructions that we were required to call or check each evening about the following day).

All in all, the entire experience was vaguely disappointing. I have no idea which trial those jurors were selected for, and I will never know. I am glad, however, that I only lost one working day to the process and am not going to have to decide someone’s fate based on a legal system that currently has, what I believe to be, some serious flaws.

Statistically speaking, at some future point in time, I will likely be called to jury duty again, and that time I may well be chosen. I imagine I will be just as conflicted about serving then as I was this time. One thing I do know for certain, while our civil justice system has its flaws, God’s system of justice does not.  We may be able to manipulate and pervert the judicial system here, but there is no way to escape God’s justice system. His love, mercy, and grace are sure; so is His justice.

“For I proclaim the name of the LORD: ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.” Deuteronomy 32:3-4 (NKJV)

Original Content: Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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