I served on a jury this past week at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. When I tell people that I had jury duty, the usual response is, “I’m sorry.”
But I’m not.
My full-time job doesn’t pay for jury service. I wasn’t thrilled about cramming a week’s worth of work into my evenings after hours of being in court. But I’m glad I served on a jury and I will do it again when called.
Most people don’t know about juror perks. I usually wolf down food at my desk but as a juror, I got an hour and a half for my mid-day meal. I had tacos at Grand Central Market, sushi in Little Tokyo, and gourmet pizza across the street from the Police Building, which is beautifully xeriscaped with vibrant succulents.
The generous lunch hour also allows jurors to take advantage of free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Geffen Contemporary. Both are within walking distance or accessible via downtown’s Dash bus. Jurors get 10% off at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Café and a free, seven day Metro pass.
Those are some nice perks. But in all honesty, I would happily serve on a jury without them because I think I made an important difference as a juror.
The trial was a criminal welfare fraud case. A single mother was accused of misrepresenting her situation to get financial aid. There was a frisson of celebrity buzz because one of the witnesses, the woman’s ex-husband, was a former contestant on a T.V. talent show.
The case was neither clear-cut nor easy to follow. At the beginning of the trial, juror opinions swung back and forth about the defendant’s presumed innocence or guilt.
At one point, the defendant’s preteen daughter was called as a witness. The prosecuting attorney asked the daughter if she was answering a question in a certain way in order to please her mom. She said yes. Then she said, “But it’s the truth.”
I wasn’t the only juror who got goose bumps.
As the trial progressed, it became clear that the woman on trial had been doing her best to take care of her daughter and to be honest and truthful with the welfare office. She volunteered at her daughter’s school. She worked there as a school yard aide until she became a victim of budget cuts. She reported every change in her circumstances, both residential and financial.
There was a final “ah-ha” moment of the kind that regularly appears in T.V. court procedurals but rarely happens in real trials. A document was introduced on the last day of testimony that confirmed jurors’ growing feeling that the defendant was not only innocent but that the case probably shouldn’t have gone to trial.
Collectively, my fellow jurors and I weren’t happy about the possibility that taxpayers’ money was wasted or about the unnecessary trauma endured by the defendant who had faced the possibility of jail time. But we were glad that we were part of the process that saw that justice was done.
When the “Not Guilty” verdict was read, the defendant tried to be stoic even as the tears ran down her face.
I wasn’t the only juror whose eyes were moist.
Service to Our Country
When potential jurors were being selected from the panel, the judge shared her thoughts about jury service before she would hear anyone’s excuses about why they couldn’t serve. We live in a great country, she said, a country that asks very little of us in the way of service besides sitting on a jury.
On Memorial Day, we honor the ultimate service of the men and women who gave their lives for our country whose citizens are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial, the right to a public trial and the right to be judged by a jury of one's peers.
In comparison to their sacrifice, a few long days seem a privilege rather than a burden.