Monday, March 3, 2008

Do Your Duty

I was going to begin this blog with an eloquent and well though out soliloquy about our freedoms as Americans and our civic duty to contribute to what makes this country great. Instead, I’ll summarize my experience of the past week by simply stating that jury duty sucks. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but for the most part there is nothing thrilling or fun about having to report to a courthouse and wait your turn to see if you have to stay or if you get to go home.

Such is the case with me last Monday, February 25. I entered a room with 300 or so of my neighbor residents of Pasco County and began the process of wait and see. Distributed among three judges, the potential jury pool was quickly widdled down to a select handful. I myself was asked to first complete a questionnaire and then to proceed into a courtroom so I could be voir dire’d by the attorneys in the case. Voir dire …. that's French for, “This is really going to ruin your week!”

I am not at liberty to disclose any specifics of the case. As I write this, the outcome is still pending and by every expectation I shall be done with my jury services on Tuesday, March 4. Yet I wanted to publish this tonight because I am almost sad this new experience is coming to an end. I know, I know ……. I just got through mentioning how much jury duty sucks. However, in the past week I have come to meet and grow with 13 of my fellow Pasconians, and it’s been a refreshing and delightful experience sharing the jury room with them.

The plan for Tuesday morning is to hear closing arguments in the case and proceed into deliberations. It is at that point where two of my new buddies will be permitted to leave as only 12 jurors will be allowed to discuss all the evidence and return with a verdict. The other 2 individuals, who were retained as alternates in the event they were needed, are still unknown to us and I expect a sad parting at the time this information is determined. Think “The People’s Court” meets “American Idol”, except I am certain our judge will be far more cordial and delicate that Simon Cowell could ever be.

I don’t know what to expect following that. For all I know, I could be one of the two sent home early. In a way, that would suck more than the schedule jumbling and plan altering this jury experience has already cost me. After all the time and all the testimony and all the notes taking; only to be told I am free to go home? Ummmmmmm…. I don’t think so! I want to be in that room having the discussions, weighing the evidence, swaying opinions and taking full advantage of the free food provided by the State of Florida.

Yet I know that either way, Tuesday marks the end of a special camaraderie the 14 of us have established in the past several days. From the sitting and waiting to the idle chit-chat to the newly developed friendships, I really am sad to see it finally come to a close. I will not publish any names out of respect for each individual’s privacy, but as I mentally go around the jury room and remember everyone’s face, I can recall a specific memory I was able to create with each and every one of them. It’s like your first week of school where you break the ice and get to know the people in your class, except after a very brief seven days schools’ out for summer vacation.

I hope I can stay in touch with most of my fellow jurors if not all of them. I doubt any more that 2 or 3 of them have Facebook or MySpace accounts, yet I am confident the majority of them do have e-mail addresses. I will always cherish the special moments shared in that icebox Pasco County likes to call the jury room. (Seriously, you can hang sides of beef in there!). Even though the nature of what we’ve been asked to do is very, very serious (i.e. expect another blog once the trial had officially concluded), I find myself thinking how fortunate I am to have been asked to share this burden with such kind, warm-hearted and downright funny people.

So the next time you go to the mail box and find an official looking envelope from your local government, don’t spend too much time fretting over it. You never know how special doing the right thing can be.

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