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Who Loves Jury Duty?

Starshine Pleads Guilty to Being Summoned for Court


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I know the drill. I know how I’m supposed to act.

The moment the Jury Summons arrives in the mail, I’m supposed to exclaim, “No! NO!!” and begin moaning about how I haven’t time for such things. Convinced there are better people for the task (and by “better” I mean “less good”), I’m required to bitch and sigh as I cancel appointments, reschedule meetings, and call in favors: “Would you believe I’ve got jury duty?” I’m supposed to spit those last two words like they’re profane. Like they’re “rectal exam” or “Sarah Palin.”

Starshine Roshell

But I was called to jury duty last week and, having been empaneled on a criminal case and tasked with sussing out the whole nuthin’-but-the-truth truth, I should probably be honest here: I flipping love jury duty.

With the exception of having to remove my belt and shuffle prisoner-like through a security scanner (sadly, no one touched my junk), I loved everything about the experience. I loved it so much, I can’t even remember why I’m supposed to hate it.

In fact, I’m starting to suspect that all those so-called “friends” who advised me to wear my underpants outside of my trousers or tell the judge “I hate white people” so that I’d be dismissed as a lunatic, were really only trying to keep spots on the jury open for themselves. Because they know how much fun it really is.

• Jury duty is like being sick—but even better. You know how being sick is awful, except that you secretly love it because it gives you license to lay around, read magazines, and watch bad TV when you really should be responding to that tersely worded email, smogging your car, and submitting expense reports? Jury duty is a universally accepted insta-vacation from your dreary daily obligations. And there’s no mucus involved, which is nice.

• The fate of the world rests in your woefully unqualified hands. My job is not terribly (okay, even slightly) important. I’m never required to raise my right hand and swear in my line of work, much less assess the veracity of a police officer’s testimony. And except for the locking-you-in-a-snackless-sequestered-room thing (how hard would it be to come up with a tray of warm brownies? I’m just saying), they treat jurors like patient and generous sages whose minds hold the key to justice. They even loan you pens.

• Bankers’ hours nothing. You want lawyers’ hours. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it’s approaching the noon hour so why don’t we break for lunch and be back here at 1:45. We’ll take our afternoon break at 3, knock off for the day at 4:30 and be back tomorrow at 10 a.m. Sound good?”

• It’s live theater. No—it’s life theater. There’s something exhilarating about sitting in a place so formal that the leader wears a robe and wields a gavel, and yet where fellow prospective jurors are compelled to blurt information so personal it makes you blush: “I’m divorced, but I live with my ex-husband.” “If I miss even a week of work, I’ll be kicked out of my apartment.” “I lost my childhood to alcoholic parents.”

Is it sick that I’d pay for entertainment like this? From the vivid cross section of immigrants, professors, and war vets in the jury pool to the snitty whispers exchanged between poker-faced attorneys to the seemingly impossible exercise of deliberating rationally with 11 strangers over the fate of a thirteenth, the courtroom is a spectacular glimpse into the colorful and compelling tangle of human drama.

Which cannot, I think, be said of a rectal exam.

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