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When jury duty calls, he's aching to serve

I so wanted to be chosen.

Not since my one and only Sadie Hawkins Dance back in high school did I want to be picked this bad.

As I sat in the central jury auditorium in the George Edgecomb Courthouse Monday, I fought the urge to raise my hand and shout, "Me, me, me. Right here. Me. Pick me."

People usually act that way when they're sitting in the audience at Let's Make A Deal, and if it took donning a costume and shouting kudos to Wayne Brady, I would have walked into the courthouse dressed like Buzz Lightyear.

Unfortunately, making a spectacle of yourself does not factor into the decision.

No, voir dire, the legal term for paring a panel into a jury, proves far more complicated. Local defense attorney Rick Terrana calls it an imperfect art.

"You learn to ask the right questions to click certain buttons and turn on certain attitudes to get the information you need to determine if you want the person on the jury," Terrana said. "Sometimes the people you think will be the best jurors turn out to be your worse, and vice versa."

So what chance did I have as a columnist?

My colleagues in the newsroom generally believe that attorneys don't want journalists on a jury. We're trained cynics who question everything and don't readily accept what's presented. Those can serve as positive attributes for attorneys on one side of the case, but detrimental to others.

Still, some of the reporters at the paper have found themselves on juries. One of my editors served on three different juries. Defense attorneys told him they like journalists because we tend to possess liberal leanings and question the system. Prosecutors told him journalists bring critical thinking to the process and can see through the smokescreens the defense may offer.

Terrana said he does rule out certain professions, but not journalists. As a defense attorney, he's found insurance industry employees and teachers tend to be more prosecutorial, and convict on more than just the facts presented in the case.

Of course, he cautioned that every decision is case specific and you need to resist judging a book by the cover.

For example, I spotted a priest while waiting in the jury auditorium and first thought a defense attorney would reject him. Terrana said not so fast.

"To the extent that a priest will acknowledge that they can judge another in accordance with their beliefs, a priest could be a good juror," Terrana said. "You know they're going to examine everything."

Terrana holds a treasure trove of lessons from his 25 years selecting juries. He once thought a jury of all women would serve him well in defense of a client because he planned to argue it was the ex-girlfriend who actually committed the crime. He began his opening remarks with, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

Oops.

"If looks could kill, I would have dropped right then," Terrana said.

As for journalists, Terrana said reporters, particularly those who cover court cases, make for good jurors because they understand the process and tend to be educated about the law.

So maybe I did have a chance. I joined 29 others on a panel and we lined up outside of Judge Christopher Sabella's courtroom.

As Tom Petty would say, the waiting is the hardest part. We stood for a while, then sat down, lined up again, then sat down — and finally entered the courtroom an hour later only to learn the defendant reached a last-minute plea deal.

So we marched back to the auditorium. A few hours later, the court official released our panel.

Some wore looks of relief. Me? I joked I wanted to go back in the auditorium and wave my release letter at the others, but mostly, I was disappointed.

Jury duty can be an awesome way to fulfill our roles as citizens and celebrate our democracy, and I'm certain the experience leaves an indelible impression. It will be at least 12 months before I receive another summons — and again — the waiting will be the hardest part.

That's all I'm saying.

When jury duty calls, he's aching to serve 02/19/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1:47pm]
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