Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Jury is Out

This past week I was called for Jury Duty. And while I can't say anything about any case I might be involved in, I can say something about the overall experience and I must say I've been pleasantly surprised!

I have been placed in a "standby" position for Jury Duty many times, but never have had to actually report until now. A few years ago being asked to report in California meant one had to be at the court in a jury pool everyday for two weeks. You could wait your two weeks and on your last day, 10 minutes before being dismissed, be called by a court and impaneled for an entire trial case (and maybe a second case), oy! There were also many reasons by which one could be excused from duty.

The California legislature in it's wisdom passed a law changing the jury duty system, loosely called: "1 Week, 1 Day or 1 Trial." Basically, it means you need to be "on call" for a week, if not asked to report within that week; you are finished with your duty. If you are told to report and are not chosen to serve on the day you are required to report; you are finished with your duty. If you are impaneled, you are only required to serve for one court case. There are few excuses for not serving. The new system uses a lot of people. The clerks told us that in all of LA County 10,000 potential jurors are called to report each weekday. Wow!

I have been very impressed with the efficiency of the new system and how well the court personnel administer their system. First, they've made it possible to register for Jury Duty via the Internet, further you can query the court via the Internet each evening before you may have to report to determine whether your service will be required the next day.

On our 1st day to report, I estimate there were 225 people in the pool for the courts to utilize all within one of the downtown LA court buildings. The judges in the various departments tell the clerks when they need jurors and any special instructions. The clerk's computer selects jurors from the pool randomly. Everybody is called by number. The entire system was well explained by the clerks and all questions answered. Also, one of the department judges welcomed us and thanked us for serving. One thing we learned was that no two days at the court were alike. On my day I was selected as the last panel of the day (darn!) and there were less than 50 people left to be dismissed and finish their duty.

About 65 of us in the panel went to the department for our court. This gets narrowed down to 12 actually seated to try the case plus 2 alternates. The court clerk was very clear in her instructions. The judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys were all pleasant, courteous and the judge clearly explained all procedures and pertinent data to us. This is about all I can say at this time, but as one who has practically nothing to do with courts and litigation, I have been made to feel welcome and an important part of the system that protects and preserves our freedoms here in the US.

The large pool of 1st day jurors really, really truly represented a cross-section of the diversity of Los Angeles which I love so much about living here. We had Chinese, Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos, Armenians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Israelis, Persians and ethnicities I didn't recognize. We had youngsters barely voting age, housewives, middle-age men, janitors, car mechanics, doctors, insurance adjusters, realtors, technicians, managers and pretty much any profession you'd find here. I was heartened by their willingness to serve.

Perhaps the gloomy, vested-interest nay-sayers who trash the country in the daily rags are just that: gloomy, vested-interest nay-sayers. They have no power except that which we grant to them by believing them.

Looks like the basics of Freedom are still here, all we need to do is revitalize our true purposes as a nation. Will this occur? The jury is out.

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