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by Caitlin Burke

IT FINALLY HAPPENED. After nearly 15 years of being of a registered voter, I was called for jury duty. Well, sent a questionnaire, anyway. It had a deadline for return on it, and I must have returned it a month late, but no one came to arrest me.

I received a jury summons a few weeks later, and I was assigned to a trial immediately. The judge asked people to approach him with hardship claims, and I did, because I had been offered a new job starting the following business day. It seemed like bad form to be on jury duty my first day.

The judge laughed and gave me a couple of month's postponement. When I got out of the courtroom, I realized he'd postponed my appearance to a date that fell in the middle of an upcoming vacation. I didn't have the heart to go back.

And then I forgot about it. When I got back from my vacation, I found a summons (oops!) and a letter from the court. Fortunately, the letter said that they had granted my request for another postponement, and my new summons date was included. I felt grateful for the benefit of the doubt and resolved to show up. Eventually, I was back in the Jury Assembly Room, awaiting assignment to a trial.

Hey, I read Runaway Jury. Pretty exciting, thinking about some shadowy figure assembling a dossier on you, striving to get your on his side or exclude you from the opportunity to stick it to some evil corporation, to award a grieving family salving wealth. I was reasonably sure I wouldn't get on a jury like that -- I'm too liberal, and my education probably spells "I won't let some lawyer tell me what to think." So I sat waiting to be assigned to some purse-snatching case and hoping to be released soon.

The local court uses a "one day, one trial" system for jurors. You report on your appointed day and are assigned to a court. Or not. If not, and you're there for the whole day, you're done for the year. If you are assigned to a court, it is only for one trial, whether it be a 2-hour session or an interminable juggernaut. Of course, my revised summons date was in a week that I had a job interview, a specialist doctor appointment, and a date to pick up a bike frame I'd taken for a custom paint job, so I was hoping for something quick. But I did want to do my civic duty. No, really.

The judge entered with his clerk, and described his upcoming trial to us. It was to be a 4-week trial, and he called for people who could not serve for that long to prepare applications to be excused on a hardship basis. Hardships would be granted to people whose jobs would not pay them for the entire length of the trial and to full-time students. More than 100 people were in the room, and barely two dozen were left when the hardship crowd was gone. I wasn't working and wasn't looking seriously. Could I end up on a jury, just because so few bodies were available?

The judge briefly described the case and introduced the attorneys. How about that. An asbestos case with deceased plaintiffs and a group of corporations as defendants. I was intrigued. The clerk told the hardship claimants to come back the following day and handed out questionnaires to the few remaining. He told us to come back the day after for jury selection.

I examined my questionnaire. Any relatives or friends that were longshoremen? Nope. Contractors? Nope. Lawyers or doctors or employed in the healthcare industry? Oh, hmm, mom, stepdad, friends .... I figured I was out.

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