Trying to do my civic duty

Jury duty is not something that ever crosses my mind. In 46 years of being registered to vote, my name has never come up for a jury pool.

That is until a week ago Monday. There I was, sitting in the courtroom of the Union County Courthouse with 75 or 80 other people and listening to Phyllis Stanford,  circuit clerk, thank us for showing up to fulfill our civic duty.
It had started a couple weeks before, when an envelope came in the mail from Stanford. How clueless was I? I didn’t even guess what was inside before I opened it.
The enclosed letter told me to report at 8:30 a.m. April 15 for grand jury duty. It said those selected would be expected to serve, starting in April and again in October. A personal questionnaire was included.
I began to worry. Jenny and I already have paid for non-refundable airline tickets for a vacation the first two weeks of June. What if I were still on jury duty?
Then I noticed that anyone 65 years or older could exempt themselves from serving on a jury. I didn’t really think that was the fair thing to do, so I stopped into the circuit clerk’s office to ask more about it.
Jurors usually spend a couple of days meeting in April and one day in October, I was told. It wouldn’t interfere with a summer trip.
I filled out the questionnaire, which included questions about how long I had lived in the county, my job, my spouse and her job. It even asked for my religious preference. I wondered if being Episcopalian increased or decreased my chance of being selected over a Methodist, a Baptist or a Catholic.
I didn’t think I would be selected anyway, because members of the press often are rejected as jurors by trial lawyers.
When Monday rolled around, I showed up in the courtroom. I knew a few of the other prospective jurors, including a colleague from the Gazette.
It was evident several people had done this before because they came prepared. A couple were reading books, and others were texting or surfing the web on their phones.
Stanford called the roll and assigned each of us a number. Soon Judge John Gregory came in and explained that a grand jury’s job is to listen to the evidence from the district attorney and police in felony cases. The jury then determines whether there is enough evidence to issue an indictment for the defendant to stand trial.
Then he excused a number of prospective jurors for reasons ranging from financial hardship to child care.   
He also said the statute specified that anyone who was a habitual drunk was excluded. He asked if anyone wanted to admit to that. None of us raised a hand.
In the end, he called out the first 20 numbers and said they would serve. The rest of us (I was number 36) were sworn in as alternates and sent home.
I was disappointed. I sort of wanted to serve, probably because I had never done it. Oh well, maybe next time.
Unless it takes another 46 years.

T. Wayne Mitchell, Gazette publisher, can be reached at 662-534-6321 or at publisher@newalbanygazette.com.

About Chris Elkins

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