July 19, 2019

The Value of Jury Duty

“I’ve been called for jury duty three or four times, but was never selected until last month, when I was put on the jury for a civil case in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was a long day. You’re expected to show up at 8:30 in the morning and often don’t leave until 5. Entering the court building, you go through metal detectors operated by court marshals. Much to my surprise, no containers of water or other liquid are allowed to come into the building. Vending machines are available inside. In Bridgeport, you take the elevator to the building’s top floor and take a seat in a large, stuffy room, along with approximately two hundred other prospective jurors. The air-conditioning is minimal. Registration, which begins at nine, takes about forty-five minutes, most of that time spent standing in line. There is nothing high-tech about the process. Paperwork and a driver’s license do the trick. Once registered, you take a small sticker that identifies you as a juror, and that must be worn at all times. If you go out of the building for lunch, you have to show the sticker to get back in. Once everyone is accounted for, a video about jury duty, narrated by judges and former jurors, is shown. The video is both informative and intended to assuage the anxieties of those unfamiliar with the judicial process. After the video, a judge appears in his robes to thank everyone for taking the time to perform “this important civic duty.”

I waxed a bit patriotic hearing those words. How often are we as citizens told that we have duties as well as rights? It reminded me of something the novelist John Lanchester wrote about his father in his memoir, Family Romance: A Love Story: “He grew up in a culture in which duty and reticence and honor and privacy and lack of ostentation were regarded as forms of goodness and public-spiritedness. Plenty of people still believe in all these things, but they have vanished from our public culture, or at least from our publicized culture, and no one celebrates them anymore, or even admits that they were once seen, and not so long ago, as virtues.”

In their reticence, lack of ostentation, and willingness to listen to one another, my fellow jurors demonstrated a genuine public-spiritedness.”

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