To the point week of 7-30-09


IT’S BEEN A STRESSFUL MONTH FOR me, starting with taking teenagers to Florida for “Big Stuf” camp; then we had Vacation Bible School at church; then the fair came; and last week I was at church camp near Westport with about 200 kids.

Back home, this week got a little more stressed – because I had a letter from the Switzerland County Court inviting me to join them on Tuesday.

I had jury duty.

Someone once said that it was scary to be tried in front of a jury of people who weren’t able to get out of jury duty; but in spite of all that I had heard, I decided that I should go and do my duty.

It was the first time that I’d ever been called.

Before I go any further, everyone needs to know a big truth – it’s not that bad. In fact, I wish I’d been able to stick around and actually be a part of the jury.

Arriving in the courtroom; I joined several dozen others who were scattered around the court waiting on instructions. A few people chatted softly; but most were busy reading the booklet about what it means to be on a jury that had been distributed to us as we signed in.

Everyone should read that booklet, because it tells you a lot of information about how a court operates and what can and cannot happen in the courtroom.

It also tells you about your responsibilities as a member of a jury; and – no – you don’t get to send someone to the electric chair, that’s what judges are for.

After a few minutes, Darlene Morton came in and welcomed us and introduced Jeff Theetge, the county probation officer. She then showed us a show video created by the State of Indiana that also discussed jury duty.

At one point Randall Shepherd, the chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, came on the video and told us about when he got called to jury duty.

If the chief justice can serve, then I guess I should, too.

With both the defendant and the plaintiff in place (see, I read my booklet), the Judge came into the courtroom and began the process of seating the actual jury.

He started by taking a roll call and then he introduced each attorney and asked us if we had any personal dealings with them.

If you did, you raised your hand and the Judge asked you more specific questions, but the main one was: “Do you feel that this relationship affects your ability to reach a fair and impartial verdict?”

If you said ‘no’, then he went on.

Being in the business that I’m in, I got to raise my hand,

A lot.

In fact, I pretty much knew everyone there. I also had a strange feeling that I had knowledge of the case itself, as the Judge generally went through the specifics of the case.

Then we got to the $64,000 question (That’s a reference to an old television show, if you are wondering).

The judge asked about media coverage or reading things in the newspaper, and when I raised my hand (again), the Judge smiled and said, “I knew you’d be raising your hand.”

That’s when he asked each attorney if they had any objection to me being dismissed from further questioning, and when both agreed, I was free to go.

There were many perks in my couple of hours in court:

– I get $15 just for showing up, plus 50-cents per mile travel money from my house to the courthouse and back; so I figure I made a cool $15.50.

– If you get picked for the actual jury, you get $40 per day, which makes me wonder why more college students aren’t clamoring to be on a jury since summer jobs were hard to find.

– Because I showed up Tuesday, I can’t be called for another two years. That’s the rule, so I’m off the hook for the next 24 months.

I’m sort of sorry about that part. True, it would be hard – really hard – to find a court case in this county that I wouldn’t have some knowledge of or would have some conflict in hearing; but I left the courthouse on Tuesday a little sad that I wasn’t going to see justice played out.

It’s easy for me to say, but should you get an invitation to come to the courthouse and be a part of a jury selection, don’t panic, because it’s not as bad as everyone paints it to be.

Living in a free country, it’s part of our responsibility.

The Seventh Amendment to the U.S Constitution guarantees each of us the right to a trial by a jury of our peers; and articles of law show that each of us is innocent until we are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

So if you get “picked”, go and be a part of our nation’s history; after all, someday you may need a jury of your peers to hear your side of the story.