The Truth about Civic Duty

Once again, I have been summoned by the mighty county clerk to serve the gods of justice. It reminded me of something I wrote a long time ago about jury duty:

Public institutions, like school and courts, are very long lasting. The only things that last longer are the memories they instill in the citizens. The value of such institutions is clear. They are necessary to ensure the continuing function of society. Still, is it too much to ask that as we get older the institutions become more sophisticated? Public school is full of crazy kids, so you can’t really expect all that much. When I was summoned to the courtroom for jury duty recently it was essentially the same as middle school, despite the supposed maturity of the adult population.

When I first entered the courtroom full of potential jurors, I was reminded of boarding a school bus. There were little groups of people that were already sitting together. As I scoped out the benches looking for a place to sit the others either completely ignored me or gave me a look that said, “if you sit down next to me I will murder you.” I was surprised I didn’t actually hear the words, “seat saved,” when I finally found a spot.

As I sat and examined the people around me, I saw that the basic seating pattern was the same as in school. “Judge’s pets” were in the front, probably so they could smell the farts of a civil authority. The troublemakers and cool jurors in the back.

Then, the court employees entered with the same timid sense of authority that is displayed by a brand new teacher. The similarity between court employees and public teachers was further reinforced by how they treated the “class.” Instead of just talking to us like adults that can understand things, they showed us a low budget video. After the video was over, the court people came in and told us the exact same thing we had just heard in the boring video, just in case we missed something.

Of course, just like in school, the people that needed to listen most were the ones that didn’t pay attention.

The judge asked us all if we had any problems, or needed any special accommodations, in order to effectively serve on the jury. One person raised their hand and announced that they had back problems. Since they couldn’t sit still for hours on end, would if be ok if they moved around and stretched every once in a while? “Of course,” the judge said, “that’s fine.” He then called on the next person with their hand raised. “I have back problems,” a completely different person said, “would it be ok if I got up and stretched every once in a while?”

I kid you not; at least half a dozen more people took turns expressing the exact same concern, with the exact same solution.

The judge finally stopped asking if anyone needed any accommodations and moved on. She asked if anyone knew anyone else in the courtroom, and of course, just about everyone raised their hand. The judge went on to ask if anyone felt that they could not serve in a jury with the people they knew. Many of the hands went down after that amendment to the question, but a significant number remained raised.

The judge began calling on them.  I expected to hear colorful stories like, “That guy stole my horse!” But no. There were just some people who happened to have encountered each other before.

The judge asked again if that would affect their ability to be a juror, and the response was always a quick, “no,” or if they wanted to sound smart, “I don’t believe it will.”

I don’t believe these people should be trusted with justice.

The thing about public institutions like school and jury duty is that most of us don’t want to be there, but understand why it’s important. We just want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Then there are the ones who, for a variety of reasons, think it their right to muck up the system for everyone. And, unfortunately, the masses that simply cannot pay attention. It’s a wonder some people don’t forget they need to breathe.

And after all of that, they didn’t even select me to be on the actual jury.

It made me feel like a dropout.