Easy Jury Duty

I have been summoned for jury service at about the same time every year for at least the last five years. So, I was not surprised to be called to serve again this week. In 2007, I served on the jury for the trial of a Methamphetamine Drug Dealer. That was the first time I actually joined a jury – every other time, I have been released from service.

I live in the County of Santa Clara, home of the Silicon Valley. Our jury service check-in process is as easy as computers can make it. The paper Summons for Jury Service I received in the mail assigned me to a group. This year, my group number was 141. Since my service started on Monday, 2/22/2010, I checked for my group number on the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara Current Juror Status web site the night before. The web site either tells me when and where I need to appear or it says when to check back for the next update. I checked back twice a day until this morning at 11 am when my group was asked to appear at 1 pm, at the Downtown Courthouse (DTS) located at 191 N. First Street, San Jose.

I arrived before 1 pm, checked in and went down the hall (past the WE APPRECIATE OUR JURORS sign) to get some coffee. I waited in the Jury Waiting Room with my large no-fat latte. It is a large room decorated with excellent color photographs and most of one very big wall covered with a huge landscape painting of the East Santa Clara Valley in 1915, by Charles H. Harmon (1859-1936). The only other object of note in the Jury Waiting Room is a handsome antique oak desk covered with two mostly-complete jigsaw puzzles.

While I was waiting, I read a brochure called “Court and Community – Jury Service Information and Instructions for Responding the Your Juror Summons”. This document included a Message from the Chief Justice of California (the Hon. Ronald M. George):

As Americans, we sometimes take for granted the rule of law that allows us our freedoms. Trial by a jury of one’s peers is among the fundamental democratic ideals of our nation. Serving as jurors reminds us that these ideals exist only as long as individual citizens are willing to uphold them.

Jury service lies at the heart of our American judicial system. It is the duty and responsibility of all qualified citizens, but it is also an opportunity to contribute to our system of justice and to our communities. For many, serving as a juror is a memorable and even a profound experience. While voting is a privilege of citizenship, jury service is a civic obligation and often the most direct participation that individuals have in their government.

Still, no matter how worthwhile, jury service makes demands on our time. In recent years, California’s courts have made many efforts to improve jury service. Most notably, your courts have adopted a one-day or one-trial system in which a juror reporting for service either is assigned to a trial on the first day or is dismissed from service for at least 12 months. We have found that this system is far more manageable for prospective jurors: the majority serve for just one day, and of those selected for a trial, most complete their service within one week.

At about 1:30 pm, our group (now called “Panel 19”) was asked to move from the general jury waiting room to a special side room. Five minutes after I sat down in the side room, the Honorable Mary Jo Levinger, the judge who had called us, came out with her Bailiff and her legal intern to talk with us. She cheerfully said the trial had been expected to last about a week, so she had called 65 of us to be considered for the jury. However, maybe because a jury group had been called in, the lawyers just settled over lunch, so we were free to go and would not be called again for at least another year.  There was much clapping. Other than checking the web site, my jury duty this year took about one hour.

Judge Levinger said I could take her photo (with the Bailiff and intern) for this blog entry:

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Images Copyright 2010 Katy Dickinson

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