I'm to report on Wednesday to a Cook County circuit courthouse located about an hour away even though there is a branch 5 minutes from me. I never get called to the one nearby. I have no idea if that's intentional or if it's a reflection of bureaucratic indifference to the real lives of human beings. I like to think that they are trying to promote diversity in the jury pools.
Being called to jury duty reminded me of something I was once told by a friend who was, at the time, one of the state's top prosecutors. I mentioned that I had jury duty and he assumed that I wanted to try to get out of it.
"When they ask if you have an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the accused," he advised, "tell them the defendant is most likely guilty or he wouldn't be on trial."
It seems like a ham-handed move to me, but I've wondered if it really works. The judges I've encountered during selection seem to know when people are trying to weasel out of service.
The last time I was called, a woman who had been quite vocal about not wanting to serve said that she was prejudiced against black people. It was a murder case and the defendant was a black male in his late teens. The judge who was conducting voir dire responded dismissively with something along the lines of "you won't be asked to judge his race, just the facts, so that won't be problem." After the judge finished with her, one of the lawyers objected , she was excused and she left with a smirk on her face.
My approach, if it gets as far as being questioned, will be honesty. I must admit that I don't relish the prospect of canceling patients beyond Wednesday (they've already been advised of the possibility). This is the fourth time I've been called by the state and I've been called to the Federal Court twice. I've never actually been selected, but I hate the cattle call atmosphere and having my schedule up in the air until the last minute. And, I would add, the financial cost to me is not insubstantial.
I will say that in recent years, they treat jurors considerably better than they used to. Twenty years ago, court employees were just downright nasty, treating jurors like convicted criminals. That wasn't unique to the court system. It was typical of Cook County and State of Illinois workers back then. They're treating people more respectfully in recent years, but it's still a day of being ordered about, eating vending machine food, and not knowing whether you'll be tied up for a day or a week.
If the court really wanted to make this experience fundamentally less annoying, calling people to courthouses closer to home would make a huge difference. And they could offer more comfortable chairs, maybe with little personal television sets like the one's at the health club, wireless connections and neck massages during breaks. Okay, just being called to the courthouse five minutes away would satisfy me.
And what's with the $17.51 check? I guess it's okay if you have an employer who is paying you, but there are a lot of people who barely scrape by and they don't get paid if they don't work.
Well, it's still better than being drafted into the army. Now that must have sucked.