ELLEN STERN HARRIS
Recently, I was delighted to be called for jury duty and genuinely looked forward to the experience. What an experience!
By 8 a.m. hundreds of people showed up, as ordered. Nearly half formed a line to be excused, based on claims of financial hardship. No evidence was required. "Hardship" claims may have included those living on substantial trust funds who would rather spend their time in the Bahamas than in the courtroom.
I had brought plenty of reading material but soon found myself using the newspapers to cover myself. That's because the jurors' room was freezing cold and since it was 80 degrees outside, I had not brought a coat. The woman in charge said there was no way she could control the temperature.
She announced that there may be an "on call" program, but there wasn't one now. Had there been such a program it would have allowed us to call a special number by a stated time to find out if we would be needed the following day.
I asked if the Central Civil West Court had beepers so those of us willing to serve could still get our work done at our offices while we were not yet needed. She said she never heard of such a thing.
By 11:25 a.m. I was so chilled and annoyed that I was not being put to use while my work was being neglected that I added my name to the "excused" list and quickly departed. But I'm still annoyed.
Too many well qualified prospective jurors automatically avoid such service. Now I know why. Those in charge of the jury system must assure those called for service that they won't be wasting their time. People should be able to call in to find out if they will be needed. Beepers could be loaned to those wanting them and the courts would have far more qualified and willing jurors to choose from.