Friday, June 19, 2009

Jury Duty on Main Street

Last Tuesday I reported for jury duty to Room 404, the Bergen County Justice Center, 10 Main Street, in Hackensack. A step-by-step video instructed us in what to expect and then we got to get coffee. As we flocked to the little cafeteria, a staff member hollered, "The bus is here!" and then chuckled. Ha ha, make that joke every day. Coffee was excellent, and I took it with me to the quiet room. I read the NY Times inch by inch and finished it all. Then turned to The Baltimore Book, and had finished that when my name got called for a jury pool. We were led to the court of Judge Lisa Firko. She explained that her trial was short, she had air conditioning and it was, therefore, a good way to do our civic duty. I reflected on this, and decided to go with it. The jury selection process followed the video almost to a tee. First we all filled out a questionnaire. Then the judge asked potential jurors to come to the sidebar where she reviewed the questionnaire with the two lawyers listening. Some jurors had a reason they couldn't serve, and therefore were excused. Finally seven people were seated in the jury box, and Judge Firko said, "I'm going to ask a series of questions so we can all get to know a little bit about you." One of the questions was, "Do you have any bumper stickers on your car that aren't about politics?" I was surprised that nobody did -- it seemed to me there were more "Proud to have an honor student at ___" around than that, but maybe I was just noticing those stickers because I have one. Back to business. After we got to know everyone, the lawyers were allowed to exercise their peremptory challenges, those they can exercise without giving a reason. The case related to an injury as a result of a car accident. The first lawyer challenged two people with only high school education. Ah ha, I thought, a complex medical issue is involved, and the lawyer wants people who can handle the science -- I'm a shoe-in if I get called (although I do have that bumper sticker -- I wasn't clear how that would play...). On the other hand, I reasoned, the lawyer might not want a doctor. It was not always clear why the lawyers were challenging -- probably notes they took during the earlier sidebar conversations. After each of the challenges, a new person was called, and the process of sidebar-conversation-getting-to-know-you-conversation was repeated. A couple of times the new juror was challenged, and it all started again. Before we were had managed to pick seven people, lunch recess had arrived. I had never spent much time on the south end of Main Street, where the Justice Center is located. I got lunch at Limon Fine Foods, which has a delightful hot/cold salad bar and nice tables in a bright window. Then I strolled down the street to Hackensack Riverkeeper, where I got pamphlets on nature trails and other activities. The photos were so lovely that I wanted to walk right over to the river and sit and watch birds, but jury duty is serious business. I went back to Judge Firko's courtroom, where we finished jury selection. I was quite disappointed not to be picked, when all was said and done. We went back to Room 404 and I settled into my old seat in the quiet room until we got dismissed. Bergen County is a "one day, one trial" county, so having served my day, I am done for now. I can now spell peremptory, know a new meaning for sidebar, and have a book of nature walks in the glove compartment of my car: a good day, I say.

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