Six years ago, I received a summons for jury duty in Jackson County, Missouri. A lover of courtroom drama, I couldn’t wait to go behind the scenes in my county courthouse. I found the entire four-day process intriguing.
Day One: Jury Selection Takes an Unbelievable 12 Hours
After checking in at 8:00 a.m., potential jurors were divided into three groups. The first two groups were dismissed prior to lunch. Afterwards, those of us who remained received a lengthy questionnaire. We completed our surveys and waited.
At 5:00 p.m., we were moved to the hallway outside the courtroom and at 6:30, seated for voir dire. I found the questioning of the jurors highly entertaining. Nearly every query was met with passionate opinions, especially when it came to whether we would be willing to award large sums of money. I half expected someone to stand up and yell, “You can’t handle the truth!”
By 7:30, the questioning was complete and the jury seated, along with one alternate. I was juror number nine. The judge instructed us not to speak to anyone about the case. At 8:00 p.m., we were finally released to go home.
Days Two and Three: Both Sides Present Compelling Testimony
Our case involved a 78-year old man who died of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos. As a drywall contractor, this man was regularly exposed to asbestos, which was an ingredient used in joint compound until the late 1970’s.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the makers of one particular brand of joint compound and the company that distributed it should be held financially responsible. They were asking for compensatory and punitive damages against both companies.
The testimony was fascinating. Medical experts testified about the effects of asbestos on the body. Drywall contractors explained the process of hanging drywall and the working conditions of the job. Eerily, the man at the center of the case hung the drywall in the very courtroom where the trial took place.
When the family took the stand to share pictures and stories, it was heart wrenching. Having recently lost my grandpa to cancer, I could understand their pain and sorrow.
Day Four: The Judge Declares a Mistrial
On the first day of testimony, the grandmother of our alternate passed away and the juror was dismissed from duty. We arrived on the fourth and final day to learn that a different juror had been in a car accident and would not be able to continue. The judge declared a mistrial.
More than six months later, I learned the two parties reached a settlement outside of court. My role as a juror was complete. For my four days of service, I received $24 and an unforgettable behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of the court system.