Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jury Duty: Why People Hate Doing It & How We Can Fix It

Recently, I was called to jury duty. I ended up getting it postponed since I had things to do in the next 3 days. For those of you outside the US, the US has mandatory jury service for citizens and you generally get called for it at random. You only have to do it something like every 6 years but if you're called, you must go & nobody is exempt from it.

It seems a very desirable county in my city has a dark side: if you're called to jury duty you're told to allot at least 3 days of your life to do it at the whopping rate of $40 a day for a full 8 hour day. This is lower than both the state and federal minimum wage. There also seems to be no concern for economic hardship if you are self-employed & missing higher paying assignments means you could be in danger of not being able to pay your rent, utility bills, car payments, other necessary bills that not paying will cause your life to suffer in a very negative way (like being homeless, not having electricity or Internet access, not having a car in a locale where there's no viable public transit which means you'll eventually lose your job because you can't get there or do it, especially with no Internet, no telephone to call anyone or be reached at, no food, etc.).

When I did jury duty in a different county, I only had to be there for one day. It was a lot of waiting around, they called me for a case, excused me then I got to go home. No, in this "desirable" county there's a ballot system where if you are rejected for one case, you have to give your ballot back and they may draw your number AGAIN with seemingly no end in sight. I opted for an adjournment since I had planned assignments and didn't care to lose $500+ in not doing those assignments. I figure with prior planning, I can just clear my schedule and let people know I'm free the day before if things don't take as long as the clerks involved with jury duty tell you they will. The clerk where I was said "If you can't commit the whole day to the next 3 days, you should leave right now and get a postponement." I opted for a time where I might get fewer assignments & hopefully will face less stress.

One big thing about jury duty is you'd better bring something to do. Ideally you'll want something not involving electricity or technology like books or writing material. I'd thought of doing writing while I was in jury duty as well as doing legal CLEs; hey, if you have time to kill you may as well do legal CLEs (which I have never found exciting or interesting; maybe it's because most of the programs I've done had nothing to do with entertainment law & few speakers have an engaging, passionate style that makes you stand up and take notice). From my own conversations with lawyers, many aren't enthused with the whole CLE thing and view it more as taking medicine than learning useful things about their particular practice area. Saving the outlines and materials is always a good thing so you have those resources for later if the subject matter comes up but most lawyers are so freaking busy they don't have time to watch and pay full attention to this stuff. The CLE provider probably also factors in here since some offer more interesting courses than others. One lawyer I've heard about bills himself as a "comedian of law" & that just builds up expectations of fun in my mind. I want to see if this guy lives up to the hype sometime. Another thing about CLE courses is that many are pricey. But it's a requirement and if you HAVE to be someplace anyway, that's making productive use of your time. I've also watched some courses while taking Amtrak to see my family (a train ride lasting at least 10 hours, usually longer when there are delays). This aspect you can plan for.

I guess if you're also inclined, you could use jury duty as a pickup scene & get to know hot prospective jurors who also want to leave & can think of better things they could be doing. Why not, right? That's better than harassing women on Facebook or LinkedIn under the guise of business networking. There were some hotties when I went; maybe there will be more next time & some will have the balls to approach me. I always like to see about prospective networking as well so if that can happen, what the hey? Another productive use of time.

But let's see: Why would you want me to be on your jury when my presence is NOT being compensated by my employer (as I'm self-employed) & I'm worrying about the loss of income from being there? What type of objectivity or any sense of fairness are you going to get from a juror who resents the state stealing their income by forcing them to work for below city, state and federal minimum wage? Attorneys used to be exempt from jury duty by virtue of being attorneys. This apparently is no longer the case yet attorneys make significantly more money, know how trials work and could easily sway non-attorneys on that jury to agree with them if they have some bias against the accused or the prosecution. I was hoping maybe me knowing a lot of attorneys in my city could get me kicked out since you can't be on the jury of a lawyer you know personally (the other side would assume you're going to side with your friend's client or if it's an enemy, your enemy will presume you're going to nail their client). Solo practitioners are being taken away from clients & not getting compensated by anybody else so why shouldn't they be exempt? Same for appearance attorneys like yours truly. Entire practices could crumble from such requirements. Isn't that screwing over other people who might have cases going to jury trials?

Honestly, though I think you'd get fewer people objecting if they were paid at least minimum wage for the city, state or country. If someone isn't being compensated by an employer, they would not have to worry they'd lose their home or ability to work due to jury service. Minimum wage at least would make people feel less resentful about serving & you wouldn't have people doing what Pauly Shore's character did in "Jury Duty" (see that movie if you haven't; I was so happy one of my Facebook friends actually knew that movie when I mentioned it since it's somewhat obscure and many people don't get my obscure references). Money for lunch would also be nice. Weirdly, I'm not even sure what's in the area of the courthouse where I have to serve. I know it for the county I served in before.

I've heard some great lines to use to get out of jury duty as well that I could consider but for now, these are my ideas for why people don't like doing it and how we could fix that.

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