When you get a jury summons, do you think, “Oh, good, I am pleased at this opportunity to bring justice to the world?” — or do you start feverishly Googling “How to get out of jury duty”? Today, the Chicks discuss whether they’re a “yea” or a “nay” when it comes to courtroom drama.
I got called up zillions of times in Brooklyn, but I was never chosen for a jury. Probably because I’d sit there with my eyes squeezed shut, pretending to be invisible as I envisioned all the manuscripts and editorial letters and agent calls piling up back at the office. But when civic duty called in the fall of 1996, I was feeling particularly stressed and disgruntled. This time, I was sure, my luck was going to run out. Imagine my shock (and guilt) when each of us miserable prospective jurors was handed an oversized tote bag full of coupons, bakery items, and gifts from local merchants. The best part? A mug emblazoned with the Kings County seal on one side and “Juror Appreciation Week 1996” on the other. I decided to change my attitude–but got rejected in a record three hours. They never called me again, darn it, but I still have the mug!
As a mystery author, I’m always conflicted about jury duty – Fascinated by the possibilities, terrified by the time commitment. I almost wound up on a jury a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t the time commitment that stopped me. Two thuggish guys were charged with a bar fight, as well as having in their possession unlicensed weapons, including a silencer. The lawyers cycled through a bunch of potential jury members who’d suddenly forgotten how to speak English, then got to me. At which point I said, “We need to talk.” I went out in the hallway with the lawyers and judges and said, “My grandfather was low-level Jewish mob and disappeared in 1933. All signs point to him being murdered by some fellow gangsters. There is absolutely no way you’ll ever convince me that anyone needs a silencer for anything but criminal and most likely mob activity.” They eventually released me but were so annoyed that I felt guilty. This was right before a Left Coast Crime convention. When I got to LCC, I asked pretty much every law enforcement official I ran into, was I wrong? Was I being overly dramatic? And every single one of them said no one but a hard core criminal – and most likely a mobster – would ever need a silencer.
I’ve only been (un)lucky to have jury duty a couple of times. On the first occasion, I sat around half a day and was dismissed after hanging in a waiting room. The second time wasn’t so easy. That time I got a tad bit further—the actual courtroom. As I sat, I imagined being placed on some exciting case where I had to be sequestered in a hotel (hello Room Service and sheets I don’t have to wash and bed I don’t have to make)! Then reality kicked in. I literally spent the entire time waiting to be questioned frantically emailing someone in HR at my job to figure out ways to get out of it. I finally found my loophole: my job wouldn’t pay for me to miss work. I’d never been so happy to practically live paycheck to paycheck. When they called me up, I put on my saddest, brokest face and sat in the witness box. Then I leaned in to the judge and plead my case. The verdict: I was dismissed!
I guess I’m a glutton for (someone else’s) punishment, because I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to be on a jury. I actually feel a flicker of excitement when I get a summons, but I never get called. Except once. Sadly, it wasn’t a scene straight out of a John Grisham novel, or a fascinating true-crime moment that I would secretly use as fodder for a novel. It was a civil suit involving a construction subcontractor suing the contractor — and it was every bit as boring as it sounds. What’s worse, the defendants were super shady business people who had legitimately screwed over the plaintiffs, but there was a loophole in the contract and we had to find for the contractors who were clearly jerks. Next time there’s a civil suit, I’m going to try to get out of it, but I’m still holding out hope for a juicy, Dateline-style murder trial.
I have only made it as far as the big room where all the potential jurors have to sit for hours waiting to see if we’ll be called. It’s an uncomfortable space (you’d think they would invest in some softer chairs for everyone doing their civic duty). And I usually spend the time stressing about how I’m going to get my classes covered and everything else done, considering that I can barely keep on top of things when I am able to be where I need to be in the first place…it’s a nail-biter.
Readers, have you ever been on a jury? Or found a creative way to avoid it? Drop us a note in the comments below!
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