Every day, during the holiday season, if you’re like me, you routinely check your mailbox for Christmas cards. About two weeks ago, there, nestled between two such pieces of mail was another kind of card: a 3″ x 5″ postcard bearing the words “Jury Summons.” There must be a certain logic that pertains to retired persons that assumes that we older folks have nothing better to with our time than to serve as jurors. What else could account for all those white-haired seniors in the jury pool? It’s one heck of a coincidence that since I turned 65, nearly seven years ago, I’ve already been called to serve twice. Kind of defies the odds, wouldn’t you say?
The first time I was called to jury duty, I got through the swearing-in process, only to be excluded from the pool when the quota was reached before I could be interviewed. Watching the process unfold, however, I decided then that if I got another chance, I would relish the opportunity to actually be a juror. I could hardly wait to decide the fate of a petty thief, or a mugger. I’d seen enough episodes of People’s Court that surely I knew how to do the right thing. I could hardly wait.
So, I set my alarm, got up early, and packed a lunch with the positive attitude that this would be my day (for the record, I took a honeycrisp apple and a strawberry yogurt). I arrived at the courthouse at exactly 9 a.m., the time specified on my “invitation,” and one by one, each of us was ushered into a narrow hallway, equipped with the latest electronic scanner. I emptied my pockets of their contents, and sauntered through the squared-off archway, eager to have my day in court. Beep! Beep! Beep! The device had concluded that I was a potential threat. Boy was I surprised. That’s impossible, I thought, I don’t have a pacemaker or any artifical joints. What the heck’s the problem? “Please step to the side, sir,” ordered the sheriff’s deputy. Then, he proceeded to wave his wand this way and that, over and around my body, resulting in even more noise. (Eventually, I was deemed safe, however, and told to continue on.)
Once inside the main building, I followed a series of enormous arrows (much like the breadcrumbs strewn by Hanzel and Gretel) that led me to my destination: Room 270. The whole process kind of reminded me of a video I’d seen in which a conga line of aspiring contestants moved through another long hallway to audition for American Idol. Eventually, I joined 48 other potential jurors in a claustrophobic room with just enough seats for everyone. The clerk of court recited some basic information regarding how we were selected and what was expected of us, and then it was time for “the movie.” This slick production, no doubt made by an aspiring film student from our local community college, was shown on a small TV set in the corner of the room, and explained all we would ever want to know about the North Carolina judicial system.
After the movie, we were all asked to stand and be sworn in by the clerk of court. Then it was time to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait some more. In all, we waited for four hours. I watched an episode of Twilight Zone on my cell phone, exchanged fish stories with the man to my right, and even texted about my predicament to my wife. Eventually, the presiding judge entered the room and explained the situation. There had already been a slew of procedural motions and other goings-on that had been required in the morning session, he informed us, and it was expected that there would be even more during the afternoon session. As a result, therefore, because North Carolina jury service is governed by a one day/one trial arrangement, we were dismissed. We were free to go, and could not be called again for at least two years.
When the judge made the announcement, a great cheer went up in the room—but, friends and neighbors, there was none from me. This was to have been my big day, my shining moment, my chance to “make a difference.” Instead, I felt cheated, deflated, and downright disappointed. However, before you go feeling sorry for me, be aware of one thing. We jurors who are called to court, even if we are not chosen to actually serve, are compensated for our time, or “service.” As the clerk put it, “We value your service.” So, in about a week, I will receive another piece of mail containing a check from the Clerk of Superior Court in the amount of—hold onto your hats—twelve bucks. You read that right: twelve whole dollars!
Shucks, and to think—I would have done it for nothing!