OPINION: My One-Day Experience as a Juror in New York City
For most people who are called for trial jury duty, the experience usually falls into one of two categories. Some, possibly the majority, sit around for two or three days. Maybe they’re called as potential jurors on a case or two, but ultimately they’re excused by the lawyers and sent home. The second group of people is actually chosen for a case.
My recent experience was somewhere in the middle. I was actually selected to serve on a jury on a civil case, but by the time the afternoon was over, the lawyers had only selected three other jurors. I was told to call a certain number the next evening to find out where to go and at what time. However, the lawyers warned that there was a possibility that the selection could drag into a third day.
So, the first night, I was told to go back to my regular activities and call the second night. I called again the second night, anxious to find out how to report for my case (I was also looking forward to eating lunch in Chinatown, which is a few blocks away from the Manhattan courthouse). When the recording came on, however, I was informed that my case, as well as several others, had been settled and that my jury service was over.
Even so, my one day in the jury room was a valuable, interesting experience. For example, when I was called in to be questioned, they two attorneys were very civil to each other. Rather than them taking turns questioning each potential juror, the attorney for the plaintiff questioned each one before lunch, then the attorney for the defendant did so after lunch. Both of them were very helpful in giving points of law related to the case. All in all, these lawyers’ actions were in stark contrast to the confrontational, borderline insulting behavior that lawyers on some TV shows, such as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” display to each other.
In addition, the plaintiff herself was present during the voir dire, sitting right next to her lawyer. I assumed she would whisper in her attorney’s ear if she objected to a particular juror. However, she didn’t say a thing — she just sat there. Perhaps someone in the legal profession can enlighten me as to what she was doing there in the first place.
All in all, about 30 potential jurors came into the jury room with me. Among them, about half asked to be excused because of time constraints, and their requests were granted.
Out of the remaining 15 or so, only I and three other jurors were chosen. After both lawyers had interviewed the jurors, they went out into the hall, huddled for a while, then came back and announced their choices. This was in contrast to the last time I had jury duty, when the lawyer announced immediately, “Mr. Geberer, I’m excusing you!”
After the four of us were selected, we were sworn in and led into the jurors’ waiting room. The main clerk behind the desk told us, “From now on, you can’t have anything to do with the lawyers outside the courtroom. You can’t even wave to them and say hello!” This seemed a little extreme to me — as far as I’m concerned, just “Don’t discuss the case with the lawyers” would do.
Earlier, this same clerk had told us that we were forbidden from taking photos of the artwork on the walls. Since this is exactly what I’d planned to do, I was taken back a little. When I asked her the reason, she answered that this security restriction was put into place after 9/11. How taking a picture of a painting on the wall could lead to a terrorist incident, I don’t know, and I hope that someone repeals this rule someday.
Anyway, the case is now over. I presumably can write about the case all I want, but I’d still prefer not to do so other than saying that it was an accident case, just like the cases that Alba Acevedo illustrates and writes about for the Eagle on a regular basis. I can also now talk to the two lawyers involved all I want, except for one fact — I can’t even remember their names! At any rate, I received a “completion of jury service” certificate in the mail. That’s it for me, jury-wise, for six more years.
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