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Jury Duty Service – It’s a ripoff!!!

April 28th, 2008

A Jury Duty summons, that annual order from the court demanding free citizen participation in their 3-ring circus, meets my definition of a ripoff. As constituted in our state, Jury Duty’s purpose is to facilitate the workings of trial courts, those institutions beloved of judges, lawyers, clerks and others who make their living off the process. It’s because our Constitution mandates the right of trial by jury that a system needs to be in place that satisfies the requirement. The result is our current jury enslavement process. If you are licensed to drive in the state, or registered to vote, they have your name and unless you’re not a citizen or a convicted felon (or a lawyer), they’ll make you serve. I use the word “enslavement” because Jury Duty service is not optional and the pay – a $15 daily stipend plus a one-way mileage allowance – must be somebody’s idea of a joke. Oh, there’s lots of money being made and paid to those involved in the trial court business, but it doesn’t go to the jurors. And potential jurors are the only uninvolved participants threatened with “a fine, a jail term, or both” should they fail to heed the court’s summons to appear.

The annual Jury Duty summons hit my mailbox a couple of weeks ago. It said I was to report to the courthouse in Indio today and to check beforehand to determine my status. Over the weekend and again early this morning I checked via the Internet and learned my service was “being rescheduled for a possible appearance time later in the week“, and to check back at 10:30 am. Around 11:00 am I learned the phrase “later in the week” has an unusual meaning to our courts. It means right now! I was informed to report to Indio – todayat 12 noon! Upon arrival and check-in at the courthouse, I was advised to take a seat and wait until 1:00 pm. The room already had an overflow crowd but I managed to find a seat behind a pillar. Since I’m an experienced jury waiting room veteran, I came prepared with reading material.

Shortly before 1:30 pm they played a video that briefly summarized the courtroom experience while also extolling the value of juror service. The film’s actors made clear the positive impact juror service can have on the lives of those who serve. It was helpfully pointed out that friendships sometimes develop among those sharing jury duty service. At that point, after sitting around waiting for an hour and a half, “positive” was not a word I was thinking of with respect to my current experience.

Around 2:00 pm the vast assemblage was divided into two groups. The first group of 200 were told to remain in the jury waiting room and all others to move outside to other areas. The 200 subsequently learned they must return tomorrow for possible selection to serve on a trial expected to last through the end of May. Those unable to serve due to personal hardship were instructed to state their reasons in writing for the judge to consider. Based on the number of those filling out the hardship forms, I doubt that “positive” is the word many would use to describe their experience.

Shortly after 3:30 pm, my group was called back to the jury waiting room. We were informed the trials for which we had been summoned, had been “continued” and that our services would not be needed. The best part of this news was learning that our appearance today satisfied the annual jury duty requirement and we’re off the hook for at least twelve months.

Some will tell you that jury duty service is a privilege, a civic responsibility and you, as a juror, are an important component of the trial process. Hogwash! They’re treating citizens as serfs – little more than cheap labor, and there’s nothing voluntary in the process. The system only works because a judge has the power to make your life miserable should you fail to respond and serve. Judges, lawyers, clerks and other court functionaries use that power of citizen enslavement in order for the system to work. It needs to work because they’re the principal beneficiaries of the process. It’s a ripoff!

Bond Shands
Palm Springs
April 28, 2008