Here in Hamilton County, Ohio, we are blessed by the fact that we rarely get summoned for jury duty. In fact, it is unlikely that any lifelong resident will be selected more than once or twice. Many people live their whole lives here without ever being called.
My experience with jury duty began with a letter from the court system. Convinced that I could “get out of it” by claiming hardship at work, I confidently went to the first mandatory meeting knowing that it would be my only one. Five minutes later, I was sitting with the rest of the jury pool waiting to get called for a case. During orientation, they explained how we were important just for being there. The fact that a pool of jurors were waiting to be summoned would often encourage two parties of a civil suit to settle out of court. Jurors were paid six dollars a day, enough to cover the five dollar parking fee and have a dollar left over. However, they encouraged us to donate our paycheck to support the cost of the “free” coffee that they provided to us.
You didn’t necessarily have to go in every day. A automated telephone message each evening informed you whether or not you had to report for duty. In general, unless you were on a case, you had to report every other day.
The majority of jury duty involved sitting in the waiting room, trying to read while daytime TV aired over the ancient television. It was especially tedious for me because, due to the fact that several of my family members are in law enforcement, I would not get called for a criminal case. Although I did get selected as a potential juror several times, I was rejected by the defense attorneys each time.
Finally, near the end of my term, I did get selected for a civil trial involving a patient who claimed her dentist had made her mouth permanently numb. After several days of listening to the many experts that each side brought in, we were instructed to proceed to the deliberation room. I went in with the idea that the attorney for the plaintiff did not adequately make his case. It appeared to me that they were more interested in getting money, rather than treating the symptom. I did not know how the other jurors felt, however, since we were not allowed to discuss the case prior to deliberations.
The first task that we had before us was to select a jury foreperson. After years of watching television courtroom drama, I hoped I would be selected for that position. While I was ready to campaign for that coveted job, the other eleven jurors breathed a collective sigh of relief that I wanted to do it. I was unanimously voted to be the jury foreperson.
To my relief, the next step was also easy. I took a preliminary vote to see where we all stood on our decision. To my surprise, we were unanimously in favor of the defendant. Nobody even remotely thought otherwise. Knowing it would look bad if we returned a verdict after thirty seconds, we spent the next hour talking about the case, our families, and our background. One of our jurors was a Jewish woman from Germany who was on one of the last boats to America before fighting broke out. She had some interesting stories.
When we returned to the courtroom, all eyes were on us, and particularly on me. I was able to look directly at the plaintiff as I read the verdict. The judge thanked us and we were dismissed. A few weeks later, I received a handwritten letter from the judge thanking me for my service. He also noted that he thought we had reached a wise decision.
Overall, I enjoyed my jury duty experience, but it is not something that I would want to do often.