Thursday, September 22, 2016

My Day(s) in Court

September has been a very busy month so far. To start with, we got the keys to our new apartment on Friday the 2nd. I'll probably write more about that whole experience at some point, but for now suffice it to say that this was not like our previous move, when we came to Worthington from Troy. That move was planned for in advance and we hired movers to take care of more or less the whole thing. This one...I wouldn't go so far as to call it an "impulse" move, but there was definitely less lead time, and thus the move itself was a little haphazard. We hired movers only for our large furniture; everything else, Brandi and I moved ourselves.

So that was physically exhausting and more than a little stressful, and it took up the entirety of that (long) weekend and the majority of the next. Sandwiched in between was our catalog deadline week at work. That's always my busiest time of each month, and this time around it was even moreso than usual. Normally a deadline week entails a two-day business trip to Toledo; this time, with everything else going on, I begged it down to just one day. Still, a one-day there-and-back makes for a long day, and presents its own issues.

Along with all of this, I received a notice in the mail a while back--late July? early August? I can't really remember--that I had been selected as a juror for the Franklin County Municipal Court for a two-week period beginning September 12.

This is the fourth time I've been called for jury service (which seems high to me, given how many people have never been called); the previous three were in much smaller counties (once in Wood, twice in Miami). In those counties, I was sent notice that my service may be required, and to call a number on a certain date to find out. Twice my service was not required and I did not have to report (I can't remember now if those were Common Pleas or Municipal Court); the third time (Miami County Common Pleas), I did have to report, and did in fact serve on the jury. That was in 2010.

Franklin County, which includes the state capital of Columbus, is a much different animal, and jury service works a little different here. There was no "call to see if we need you." The summons simply instructed me to report on September 12 for two weeks of jury service. And so that was what I did.

The first day was given over almost entirely to orientation. There was a questionnaire to fill out; the jury commissioner spoke; one of the judges came in and spoke; there was a video (maybe memory of Day 1 is already a little fuzzy). Mostly there were questions, and most of those questions concerned various ways the jurors hoped the two-week timeline might be circumvented. In case you ever find yourself in a jury pool for the Franklin County Municipal Court, let me save you and Mr. Shields some time: there aren't any. If you get called for jury service, you will be there for two weeks. The only exception is that, unless you're serving on a jury for a trial that is still going at the end of day on Thursday, you do not have to come in on Friday. You will notice, for example, that I'm writing this on a Thursday evening, and my jury service is over. We did not have to report last Friday, either.

Of course, when you tell anyone you're on jury duty, especially if you mention that you have to be there for two weeks, the most common response is something along the lines of, "Ooh, what kind of case is it?" So here's how it works. Franklin County Municipal Court is, from what we heard this week, the busiest court system in Ohio and one of the busiest in the country. So when they call you in as a juror, that doesn't mean you've been assigned to a trial. It means there are so many potential trials that could begin on a given day (they put the number on the board each morning; it was anywhere from the 50s to the 90s) that they just need a pool of potential jurors in case any trials actually happen. The overwhelming majority of cases, however, are settled before the need for a jury comes about.

All of that is a long way of saying that, in two weeks (eight days) of jury service, I did not end up on any trials. No one in our group (60+ people) did. Four times, a group of twenty was put on standby. I was called in the first one of those, on the very first day. Three of those (including mine) settled before we were called out of the jury room. One group (in which I was not included) did end up being called into the courtroom to begin the selection process, but that case then ended up settling as well before it went any further.

It's worth mentioning here that jurors are paid $15 per day they attend. That's a pittance, really, but let's do a little math. I think there were 63 jurors in our group, so that's $945 per day, which adds up to $7560 total to pay us all for eight days of not serving on juries. So it adds up. And we were assured that it was our presence and readiness to serve that helped so many cases to settle, which in turn keeps the judges and courts free, rather than tying them up and costing even more money.

(I hope I conveyed that in a way that makes sense. It made sense as it was explained, so if it doesn't here, please blame the translation.)

So. If I didn't serve on any juries, how did I pass two weeks on jury duty? I'm glad you asked. Tom Shields, the jury commissioner, told us all on the first day that he realized that jury duty was a major inconvenience, but that they tried to minimize that inconvenience as much as they could, and I found that to be the case. In the mornings, we had to report by 10:30, but could report as early as 8:00. Once we checked in, we were free to observe the goings-on in various courtrooms. That was an opportunity that I, personally, did not take advantage of. The jury room was set up for wireless Internet access; since I telecommute anyway, and since the company I work for does not pay for hours not worked during jury duty, I went in early, taking my laptop along, and worked until lunchtime. Although my setup was less than optimal (at home I have a monitor in addition to my laptop, which really helps me work faster and, probably, better) and the WiFi would get a little spotty as the morning wore on and more and more jurors added their devices to the network, it worked out fairly well.

We were given ninety minutes for lunch. As someone who eats slowly and only gets thirty minutes when I'm working, that was a luxury. Most days I went over to the cafeteria at the Common Pleas court building, which is surprisingly good, and ate there. A couple of times, though, they offered tours of other locations, which took place more or less during the lunch break. Last week I went with a group to tour the Ohio Supreme Court, and earlier this week we went to the Ohio Statehouse. After lunch was when we were most likely to be called for a trial, but they usually had a speaker lined up who would come in and give us a little background on different governmental or court departments. We heard from representatives of the clerk of courts and the county auditor, as well as from the county recorder himself. One afternoon I joined a group who got to sit in on some small claims cases and then hear from the magistrate. Another day Mr. Shields demonstrated the jury selection software (we got to see the actual selection of a group of jurors for, I think sometime in November) and talked about how the process has evolved. The court dockets cleared for the day and they released us anywhere from around 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. each day. Then today, after we were done, we had an opportunity to go downstairs with a group of sheriff's deputies and take a tour of the county jail. That was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.

I'm not going to lie: when I first got the summons, I was pretty irritated, given that it was the fourth time I've been called. And when I realized it was for a two-week period, I nearly panicked, given everything else we had going on, in addition to my company's pay policy. But really, it turned out to be worthwhile. Would I have liked to serve on an actual jury while I was there? Well, sure. But it really was an interesting opportunity to get at least a small glimpse into the inner workings of the court, as well as a few other governmental agencies, an opportunity that most people aren't afforded. I was really struck by the jury office's determination to not waste our time, as well as how seriously everyone we came into contact with took their mandate to be fair and responsible with how their duties were carried out and how the public's money is spent.

Now. The one thing I wish I would have known going in? I'm actually not 100% sure this is supposed to be common knowledge, but what the hell--Mr. Shields volunteered the information without being asked and didn't say anything about keeping it close to the vest, and since I think it's useful, I'll put it out there. He told us that, once you get a summons for jury duty, you can call in and reschedule your service (I think it has to be done within three months) one time with no questions asked. All things considered, I would have preferred to move it back a couple of weeks or a month.

But hey, I got through it, and actually mostly enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong: I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to my regular routine. Working in the jury room in the mornings and then trying to keep up with my workload and make up some time in the evenings was definitely wearying. And don't get me started on the traffic trying to get downtown in the mornings. But I liked being downtown during the day, and of course I already mentioned the luxurious lunches.

Anyway. Getting the summons is never a wonderful feeling, but here, at least, really: jury duty, not so bad.

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