Monday, July 15, 2013

Jury Duty, Day 1

I’ve been called for jury duty four times in my life, the first at age nine. My parents encouraged me to fill out the paperwork claiming exemption, which resulted in a handwritten letter reporting something to the effect of “My mommy says I’m too young to be a juror.” I responded similarly the second time I was called, at age 17. I was called again years later in New York, after I had moved to Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. “I can’t make it,” I told the court. “I’m in a disaster zone.” That seemed to be good enough for them, and I thought I’d be in the clear for a while.

But finally they’ve caught up to me, and I was scheduled to fulfill my civic obligation this morning in New Orleans Civil District Court. Actually I was supposed to go in on June 7th for something called “empanelment,” but the notice also allowed for an online check-in. I took advantage of this second option, which produced a message telling me to report on July 1st. I signed up for email reminders, but I thought to check again on June 30th after my friend A. told me her report date had changed after she had been called earlier in the summer. Indeed, my new date was now July 15th. I checked last night: same deal. [I disregarded the four emails I had received reminding me to report on June 7th.]

Proof of the pudding
When I went in this morning, my jury duty notice was scanned and I was told that I was in Group Three, which doesn’t report until next Monday. “But my notice says I’m in Group One,” I countered. “Well it’s wrong,” the clerk said. Apparently I wasn’t the only one fooled by this numerical trickery: At least 40 other people had filed into the juror pool waiting room with me by the time I got this information.

My boss, who by chance had also been called for jury duty in my pool, asked the clerk why the online portal had told us to come in today, though we were not needed until next week. “You have to call too,” the clerk said. “But it says you can check online,” another potential juror noted. “I don’t know what to tell you, ma’am,” the clerk replied. “You can check online but you still have to call on Friday for Monday.” Right.

Though we were told we were dismissed until Monday, I feared that this information could just as rapidly change as earlier truths had. After all, my friend A. had reported for jury duty on July 1st and having been told she was dismissed, she went back to work the next day only to receive a telephoned warning from the court telling her she was in contempt. And that wasn’t the only indignity: “Jury duty,” A. said, “was 80 angry people in a room with not enough chairs, all crowded around the world’s smallest coffee pot.” I guess they’ll have to look for me at the café if they want to execute that contempt warrant. It seems I’ll have my day in court on Monday, maybe!

UPDATE: I called Saturday night to find that the jury is not in need of my duty after all. "Thank you for your service," the nice automaton told me. You're very welcome!

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