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Jury is for, by and of the people

Unless you have a lot of experience with rejection _ and I have _ it can hurt when you suddenly realize that you have about as much chance of being picked for service on a jury as you do of being selected for astronaut training or for the Rockettes.

We live in a pretty neat society.

It requires us to obey laws, pay our taxes and behave with some degree of tolerance for our fellow human beings. But outside of computing our income tax once a year (or quarterly for some folks) and occasional military service in times of real or perceived need, the only other requirement it makes of us is jury duty.

Once every couple of years if you live in a small county, once or twice in a lifetime if you live in a populous one, you get asked to be available for jury duty.

I am a big believer in the jury system only because it is _ as Winston Churchill once said of democracy _ absolutely the worst system .

.

. next to all others.

There was a time when it was virtually impossible for me to serve on a jury: when I covered courts and had read every court file on any case that could be coming up, had interviewed the principals in a case and might possibly have been at the scene of a crime or accident.

Judges and I both knew we were wasting the taxpayers' money in paying me to sit around the courthouse and drink coffee during a time when my normal duties included sitting around the courthouse and drinking coffee.

But when I stopped covering courts as a regular beat, I stopped asking to be excused. Like everybody else, I have other things I could be doing, but not necessarily more important things.

It is still unlikely that I will ever serve on a jury. When judges and attorneys ask a list of questions aimed at finding problem areas, my hand tends to go up rather than remain down.

Military service?

Yes.

Medical experience?

Yes.

Been arrested?

Yes.

Been a defendant?

Yes.

Been a plaintiff?

Yes.

By the time I answer and explain those questions, admit to having covered all or part of somewhere between 500 and 1,000 trials, having been married to two people in the court system, growing up in a family that included two police officers . . . I can see attorneys' eyes start to glaze over _ especially because those factors set off alarms with lawyers for both sides of criminal cases.

Someone who has been arrested may be angry at prosecutors . . . or at a defense attorney. Someone with medical experience might think he or she knows more than a medical expert. Someone who grew up with police officers may find them more or less believable than other witnesses.

Prosecutors usually like former Marines who tend to be oriented toward regimentation and order. They tend to get nervous about people with shoulder-length hair and beards who are wearing sandals and new-age jewelry.

Defense attorneys may like someone who has publicly confirmed his liberalism and supports a variety of civil rights movements but get queasy when they find out that same person once very much wanted to be a police officer.

I sort of pride myself on the fact that I was bumped from one jury by the defense and from another one by the prosecutor.

That doesn't negate the value of the service however. Attorneys only have so many jurors they can bounce because of their gut feelings, and the decision on how and when to use those challenges has an indirect _ but arguably beneficial _ effect on the process. A bettor juror, who might otherwise have been dismissed for having clocks on his socks, might have gotten a closer look because my presence used up one of those challenges.

You have no right to ask a court system to protect you if you refuse to participate in it when asked.

It was, as I heard so many of my fellow prospective jurors say, inconvenient.

That's probably why they call it a service.

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