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For all of my 61 years, I’ve wanted to be on a jury. And probably half a dozen times, I’ve gotten something in the mail while living in three different cities, called the number they ask you to check the night before, and been told my services were not needed.
Last night, I got another chance. This wasn’t necessarily the night you wanted to be a winner because the NCAA Championship game was going to be on until after midnight, meaning getting up early to go to a courthouse the next morning would not be ideal. But when I called the phone number printed on the jury duty summons, they said Groups 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 AND 8 would need to show up. Numbers 9 through infinity could stay home.
Mine was No. 8.
Let me first say if you’ve reached the stage of life where you’ve retired (like I did two months ago) and you get used to getting up when you want to and easing into the day, that alarm going off at 5:50 AM is a bit of a jolt. I left the house at about 7:20 AM for the trip to neighboring Leesburg, reasoning that it’s one thing to be late to a business meeting; it’s another thing entirely when where you’re going they have people at the entrance with guns and handcuffs. This one I needed to be on time or early too.
Very early in the process I noticed just how addicted I have gotten to my cell phone. You can’t bring one into the Courthouse, so I left mine in my car. I parked at the parking garage across the street from where I thought I needed to go, then walked to where I thought the entrance would be. It wasn’t there and the Loudoun County Courthouse is one huge block where if you walk the wrong way, you’re going to pick up a couple thousand steps on your Fitbit making a lap around the grounds.
My first instinct was to grab my phone and Google where the main entrance was…except I couldn’t. I eventually found it…along with 2,271 steps according to the device on my wrist. I guess I should have turned right crossing the street instead of left.
I made it through security (and as you can imagine, there was a lot of it), took an elevator upstairs, and was directed to a large room at 7:50 AM. You sit there in silence until about 8:20, when a nice lady with a clipboard gives instructions on what is going to happen. A judge will talk to us, we are told, questions will be asked, and then they will decide if we get to be on a jury or not. We were warned this would probably take until noon, but they would be back with further instructions in another half hour.
With no phone or electronic device, you are now left to either read a book if you brought one, or let your imagination run wild. While I did bring a book to read (a John Grisham one, of course) I found myself counting how many of us were in the room (27), how many different colors of chairs there were (6) and how many different styles of chairs (4). I imagined which things I shouldn’t say if asked a question, such as “I read people well so I’m sure I will be able to tell if the person is guilty within the first 30 seconds” or maybe “I think I should be the foreman since I’m the smartest person in the room.” If a lawyer asked a question, saying “since lawyers make so much money, couldn’t you afford a better-looking tie?” was probably another route I shouldn’t consider traveling down.
As an avid sports fan, I found myself wondering about potential prop bets. What would be the over/under on number of times an attorney or prosecutor said “I object”? Would the defendant be a man or woman? Would the judge say “you’re out of order” at least once? What was the over/under on how many days the trial lasted? Had I watched too many shows on television involving trials?
At 8:45, the lady with all the answers returned. We were to line up in alphabetical order, just like we did in grade school before going to lunch. We then sat in chairs lined around the walls of the room in that order. I figured since we had gone this far, maybe we were going to see the inside of a court room.
But at 9:10 AM, our handler came back for the final time. She told us she had been informed that they would not need a jury today and that we were all released. This would count as jury service so we would not be called again for at least the next three years.
That was it. A little more than an hour of waiting, and out you go. I felt like the Caps in the playoffs. A lot of waiting, a lot of hope and anticipating, then you’re out before things even get started.
Maybe next time. In 2021….