Sunday, May 19, 2013

Jury Duty in Manhattan

So, I pulled jury duty this month.  I figured it was coming when earlier this year I got a form in the mail to fill out about my qualifications and any recent jury duty I'd served.  So it wasn't a surprise when I got the actual summons.

I was summoned for Thursday, May 16th.  It coincided with the second day of a two day Jewish holiday, Shavuot, for which my company was closed, so I didn't miss any work on Thursday.  Several people at work suggested I tell them it was a religious holiday to postpone it.  However, since I'm not religious and have never celebrated that particular holiday before, it just didn't feel like the right thing to do in my case, so I didn't ask for my one postponement.

Thursday, May 16th

Thursday morning I showed up at 71 Thomas Street at about 8:20am, a little early for my 9am reporting time.  The security guard at the entrance said "we open at 8:45" and when I repeated I was there for jury duty he just said "we open at 8:45".  (however, I'm now looking at the Jury Information Card the court gave us on Friday it says "Jury Assembly Rooms are open at 8:00 am")

I walked around the neighborhood a little, then got back there at about 8:40am to see a line of people standing outside waiting to get in.  After a few minutes they opened the door and we went through the bag x-ray and metal detector security.  The security guards were kind of rude to anyone who slightly slowed the line, yelling "take off your belt!" and "put your things in a tray!"  Then after retrieving stuff and asking directions the bored one at the end just said "read the signs..." like we were imbeciles...

Once inside I found the bathroom then found a seat in the jury assembly room to wait.

Around 9:15am a clerk, William Stevenson, came out to get things started, "I waited a little for the latecomers..."  He was a great clerk.  He said he'd been doing this clerk job since the 80's, but he never seemed to lose sight of the fact that while he knows the process and procedures inside and out, it's not daily work for the rest of us, a few who've had jury duty before and a lot who haven't, so most of us don't know the way around or the details or much about it.  He didn't make me feel stupid or anything for being unsure of what I was doing there or not knowing what to do with particular papers and things.

He started by having us go through parts of our summonses and make sure we were all in the right place on the right day, that our summonses said May 16th, and 71 Thomas Street.  For anyone whose said something different he told them to go to the main courthouse at 60 Center Street to get it cleared up, and that they should hurry over there so they wouldn't have to wait too much longer in line.

He then went over the requirements for jury duty at that court, being a citizen, being over 18 years old, living in Manhattan, Roosevelt Island and some other odd zip code, and not being a convicted felon.  He said if anyone didn't meet those requirements they should leave as quick as possible and go to the main courthouse to clear it up at the administration office.

He covered the jury duty hours, from 9am to 5pm, with a lunch break from 1pm to 2pm.  He said that for those jurors not involved in a trial, if we're in the assembly room he'll get us out at 4:30pm, but if a judge has us in something, then it's out of his hands.

He said the average trial length is seven days, some are longer, some are shorter, but in his experience, they average seven days.

Then he said it was time to get orientation started for everyone else...  He played a 25 minute video, featuring famous news stars going over a bit of the history of our justice system.  It began by showing middle ages style justice of "trial by ordeal" with actors portraying a trial of someone, where it was declared that if he was bound up and tossed in the lake, if he sank he was innocent (not caring if he drowned) and if he floated he was guilty...  Then it led to the changes in justice, including slightly later in England where they had juries, but the juries would be imprisoned if they didn't find those accused to be guilty...  Eventually getting up to our modern system.  It compared real life courtroom trials to TV and movie dramatized ones, explaining what about real trials makes them such compelling sources for drama.

After that he had us line up to give him portions of our jury summons and take a questionnaire to fill out to give to any lawyers who need to interview us in jury selection.  After long enough for most people to have filled those out, Mr. Stevenson picked up the microphone again and pointed some common errors people make, like reading "county" as "country" in one box, and not to write "Manhattan" as the neighborhood, but rather, which actual neighborhood within Manhattan where we live.

And then we waited.  And waited.  And waited...

Periodically Mr. Stevenson would get on the microphone and tell us there aren't yet any trials that need jurors in their building, but that he and another clerk were contacting other New York County courts in the same system.

The normal lunch break is from 1pm to 2pm, but since nothing was happening, he let us go for a longer lunch around 12:30pm and told us to be back by 2:15pm.

Having extra time, I took the A train from Chambers Street up to 42nd Street & 8th Avenue, where the front of the train was closer to 44th Street, so I dashed home.  I surprised Leena by showing up and then had a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a small Coke for some caffeine.

I left the apartment around 1:35pm and just barely made it back to the jury assembly room by 2:15pm...

Then there was more waiting...

Finally, around 3:15pm one of the other clerks got on the microphone and asked for all the jurors to assemble in the main assembly room, for the ones scattered about, in the lunch room, in the bathrooms and in the side rooms.  And he asked for people to remove their headphones and listen.

He introduced his talk as "we're going to give you all a lesson in civics..."  Then announced that they'd talked to a number of judges and clerks throughout the system and there were no trials going to select juries that afternoon so we were free to leave for the day.  They announced that instead of 9am the next morning we should come at 10am.


Friday, May 17th

I got to the courthouse around 9:30am, a bit early, and went through the security checks to get into the jury assembly room and begin waiting.

Around 10:15am Mr. Stevenson got into the main room and took roll call, cheerfully welcoming every person who responded.  Then said there weren't any trials in that courthouse that yet needed jurors, but to bear with him while he contacted others to see.

Not much happened for about an hour or so, then he got back on the microphone and announced that there was a trial at the main courthouse at 60 Center Street that would need all of us.  He gave repeated directions how to get there, "go out the door, turn right, turn right again and walk forward four blocks," but said not to leave immediately.  He then took another roll call to make sure he knew everyone who was going there, and gave us a yellow card with addresses and details of the courthouses.  He repeated the directions and said that at the end of it he would lead over any of those who weren't familiar with it.

After he called my name I got my yellow card and figured I could follow his directions.  I wasn't alone, I saw others along the route I recognized from the jury room, so I knew I was going the right direction on the four block walk.

Many of us were together again at the security check point at the entrance to this courthouse and then got through and worked our way to the elevators and up to the 4th floor's jury assembly room.

There we waited some more...

After some time a clerk there told us all to follow an officer of the court down to a 3rd floor court room, but not to go inside until the officer said we could.  The officer led us down the steps, but said any could use the elevators if they wanted, and then to the hallway outside the courtroom where we had another wait.

Finally once the court room emptied of other jurors the officer said we could go in, and we filed in, filling up the seats...

The judge introduced the case as a lawsuit about asbestos and could be expected to take around 8 weeks, and then turned it over to the plaintiffs' lawyer to lead the proceedings for us.


In the introduction to the trial the lawyers said they understood it was a long trial and could be a financial hardship on many potential jurors and that neither side would want jurors who might quit part way through or spend their days worrying about finances instead of paying attention.  In addition they said they knew it was summer, when many people make vacation plans that could be affected.

He read off two pages of names of plaintiffs, families, and witnesses they expected to call and said if we knew any of those people we should let them know.  Then he had each of the defense attorneys introduce themselves and their law firms so if we knew of any of them we could let them know.  Then one of them read off two pages of names of companies involved so that if we owned stock in any of those we could let them know.

Then he said we'd take a lunch break.  He also made it clear that the lawyers would see us outside the courtroom but not to take it personally if they didn't greet us or smile at us or acknowledge us in passing.  He said that was part of maintaining the impartiality of the jury system.  They would not interact with us in any way unless lawyers from both sides were present, or the judge.

After lunch I got back inside, stopped by the jury assembly room for a drink of water then waited in the hallway outside the courtroom.  Others from my group of prospective jurors showed up in a steady stream, all waiting outside, most getting on their mobile phones or laptops to kill the time.

A little later the officer of the court opened up the courtroom and we filed in.

The plaintiffs' lawyer again lead the proceedings and said they'd interview us one by one in the judge's chamber that they'd set up.  He suggested just going along the first row starting at the left and working through the room, mostly leaving it up to us to manage.

He also asked that if they let us go we don't go back into the room and tell the crowd what we said to get out of the jury selection.  He said it really happened once that they let one person go because they'd already purchased plane tickets to Australia during the time period of the trial, and then "seven more people all said they had tickets to Australia."

I was in the second bench of the third row, so around #30, give or take a few...  It was a long wait, with some people taking longer for them to interview than others.  Several were sent back out into the courtroom to sit and wait for the judge.  But most were leaving through the stairwell by the judge's chamber.

So, when it was my turn they brought me into the room with a dozen lawyers and asked "what's your conflict?"  I said that I work for a very small company and would only get paid from work for the two weeks of vacation I get this year, and so missing eight weeks of work, getting only the $40 a day, six to eight weeks after the trial, would mean I would not be able to pay my rent and expenses for a month.  The lawyer joked, "you don't want to spend your vacation here with us?  Your next four vacations at that!"  Then he said "alright, you can go..."

Then he gave me my juror ballot to take back up to the jury assembly room to be processed by the clerk.  That took about twenty minutes before she gave me a printout of my proof of jury service.

So, that was that...

I feel a little guilty about getting out of jury duty instead of being eliminated by not meeting their needs. I mean, I know by having financial troubles with the length of the trial I don't meet their needs, but still, it feels to me like I failed to do my duty.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting post and a nice read! I guess you DID do your duty and your reason seems genuine!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the write-up! I had jury duty for the first time ever at 71 Thomas St too and was wondering what it would be like. It was _exactly_like you described. Bill Stevenson is great!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great write up in regards to the jury duty in Manhattan, also pertaining to the accommodations for travelers as well as Cheap studios for rent in New York.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have jury duty tomorrow, and reading your blog helps to relieve some of my anxiety

    ReplyDelete
  5. thanks for sharing this story...it also helps relieve some of my anxiety about my upcoming duty...perhaps i could even get out of it. i don't have any religious holidays coming up, though...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great write up dude, going in tomorrow, knowing what to generally expect helps out a lot. Cheers, and don't feel like you failed to do your duty. You showed up and were honest with them. That's all you can do.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great write-up. Your blog aptly captures what most folks will encounter when called for jury duty. In your case, you did your duty by appearing, and had a genuine reason for bowing out.

    ReplyDelete