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Friday, January 23, 2015

Jury Service Jitters

When I got a standby jury summons notice in the mail, I knew what to do based on my past experience. But this time my experience was slightly different, so I thought I would share what happened to me.

When I emailed the jury accommodation staff regarding a CART request, I was told I could either confirm with the office that I was coming in that day or request a postponement. I decided to go ahead with the January date rather than put off the inevitable. As it turned out, I heard from another juror that I would have been called in as a juror that day (according to the letters of the alphabet of last names chosen) so it worked out to my benefit to have made this plan in advance rather than risk having to come in without making an accommodation request.

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As the day approached, I found myself feeling nervous about the experience. On the day I had to report to the courthouse I had a full-blown case of the jitters. I did fine going through the security at the courthouse and finding the jury waiting room. When I handed my jury summons in at a check in table, the clerk mumbled something which after a moment I figured out was "Is the spelling of your name and address correct?" Mine was so I nodded and received my panel number on a small slip of paper. This number is the key to the whole jury waiting room experience. When a panel number is called, all the people holding that number assemble and as a group proceed into a courtroom to be interviewed as potential jurors.

With my number in hand, I found a seat in the same section I had sat in the last time which had a clear view of a wall-mounted video screen. I knew there would be a video orientation which would be shown with captions. I could not remember if the screens were also used to display the number when a panel was called to the front. It turned out they were not but I think if they could be that would be excellent. I know it would have eased my nervousness about not hearing if my number was called.

As soon as the video was finished, I made a beeline to the office. I explained that I was hard of hearing and had requested CART captioning services. The clerk asked me my name and she seemed to recognize it. She offered me a seat and telephoned for the captioner to come and meet me. After a short wait, a nice woman came in and introduced herself to me. She said, "I will be with you today to help you." I was very reassured, but also a bit misguided as I thought that meant she was going to be sitting next to me in the jury waiting room. No, she left after confirming that she would be called if her services were needed.

I returned to my seat in the waiting area. I smiled and told the woman sitting next to me, "They've got me all set up." She said, "What do you mean?" I explained that I had trouble hearing and they had someone who would type the words out for me to read if I were called to go into a courtroom. I was glad I had shared that with her because for the rest of our day, she was kind about making sure I knew what numbers had been called. But even so, I still felt jittery. At one point, I was clutching the paper with the panel number on it tightly in my hand, even after they had called numbers which I knew were not mine. My friendly neighbor leaned over and said, "It's okay. You're good."

But someone else wasn't. One of the groups called was missing a member. This resulted in a bit of entertainment for us bored onlookers as the clerks tried to figure out who was missing and who was there. I think everyone was looking around to see who hadn't been paying attention. After about 20 minutes, a woman came up to join the group. She did not seem particularly embarrassed or upset. I would have been mortified.

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One woman who announced panel numbers was very emphatic as she spoke into the microphone, "Number __, get all your things. You're going to court!" After hearing that a few times, I commented, "I hate how she scares me," and the two women sitting on either side of me burst out laughing. By that time, I had caught on to the fact that these court employees were used to dealing with jurors who didn't quite get what they said the first time. I was really in good company. In fact, I wasn't the only nervous one. There were others who were nervous about the jury experience for their own reasons, completely unrelated to hearing loss.

It turned out that my number was never called. Even though we had been told at one point that they expected to need all 600 of us and that we could expect to go into the courtroom for selection at least once that day, it didn't happen. Apparently there were lots of cancellations where the cases were settled at the last minute. That was fine with me. Since I had not been selected that day, I could go home and not return for jury service for at least a year. If and when I do return, I want to remind myself of today's experience so I won't be as nervous next time.

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