LESLIE CRISS: First chance at jury duty highly anticipated, later abrogated

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“A jury consists of 12 persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”
– Robert Frost
“I’m infuriated by those who espouse the ‘common wisdom’ that any intelligent person can – and should – avoid jury service.”
– Marissa N. Batt
Several weeks ago I received by mail a lovely letter from Lee County’s Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin. Her letter was an invitation of sorts, asking me to appear early Monday morning, Aug. 8 to see if I might qualify for jury duty.
It was difficult for me to contain my excitement. And I’m not kidding.
On Oct. 1, I will be 54 years old and this was the very first time in my life I’ve been summoned to jury duty.
There was a reason that as an 8th-grader I received an academic award for the highest average in Civics. I took to heart all I learned about the rights and duties of being a citizen of the world, my country, my state and the town/county I called home.
So when my Loftin letter landed in my mailbox, I looked forward to fulfilling my duty.
It would, at the very least, be a learning experience.
Monday morning arrived and I made it through the metal detectors with no noise. As I climbed the stairs to second floor of the Justice Center, I waited with about 100 other folks who’d been invited by Ms. Loftin to show up.
I happily noticed the great diversity of our group – men, women, many races, a wide variety of ages – and attitudes.
Someone told me I might be able to get out of jury duty by telling the judge about some health issues in my family that summon me to Corinth from time to time during the week. But I really wanted to serve, to see how it all works.
Besides, when I met an acquaintance inside the courtroom who is going through chemotherapy treatments at present who did not plan to ask to be excused, I felt ashamed for even entertaining a small thought of asking for a pass.
Others, however, did not share my shame.
When the judge asked for the excuses, there were more than a few. Some seemed silly; others quite valid. The judge did a fine job, I believe, of distinguishing between the real and the not-so-real reasons to be excused from jury duty.
Most of the morning was spent weeding out the excused. Then the judge asked some questions that got rid of a few more folks. The lawyers, he told us, would question us after lunch, which they did.
At 2:50 Monday afternoon, the judge told a dwindling but still rather large group of prospective jurors the attorneys had told him they thought they could pick a jury from our number by 3:30.
We were banished to the hallway outside the courtroom, where we waited. And waited. And waited.
At 4:40, we were allowed back into the courtroom, now void of lawyers, and told by the judge the defendant had pleaded guilty and we were not needed.
I left the Justice Center, dejected, disappointed by my ultimate rejection as a first-time juror.
Here’s hoping for a second chance someday.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com