Civic Duty Redux

Two weeks ago I was called for jury duty by Harris County so I rode into downtown Houston with the husband in the carpool lane, sat in a fairly quiet large room with about 200 fellow citizen strangers for 3 hours, read a book, was dismissed in time to meet the husband for lunch, and rode the bus home.

Today I was called for jury duty by the City of Houston. So I rode into almost downtown Houston with the husband in the carpool lane, sat in a noisy room with about 60 fellow citizen strangers for 5 hrs (including an hour plus lunch break), read a book while trying to ignore CNN on the TV,  and am now sitting in the downtown library writing this post.

I actually don’t mind when the jury duty summons arrive. I’m retired (x3) with a flexible schedule. I think I’m smart and reasonable. I certainly would like someone like me on MY jury. Plus it gives me several hours of guilt-free reading time – there is honestly nothing else I could/should be doing right then.

I do feel a bit of trepidation heading into the county courthouse. They have serious cases there, cases that could drag out for days or weeks, cases where my paying attention and making a decision could dramatically alter someone’s life. I have shown up for jury duty 4 or 5 times, and I have served on one jury, a rape case about 10 yrs ago. It only lasted two days, but it has really stuck with me. By contrast, juries at the municipal courts deal solely with traffic court, or very rarely, in a contested ordinance or code violation. I can handle the pressure of deciding about that.

The court officers always are profuse with their gratitude, both in person and thru their recorded video messages (which they make you close your book and watch.) “Thank you for your service.” “This is your civic duty and necessary for our judicial system to work.” “Our system would not exist without you.” But I have to say, I was especially impressed by the messages delivered today in traffic court.

We got the usual thanks in the morning, but then the lady in charge of the jury room added that, although we might think that we are just sitting there doing nothing, we were already providing a vital service to the courts. They handle hundred of cases each day, people with traffic tickets who want their day in court.  But because people know that we are here, ready to be a jury, to make the trial a reality, a lot more of them are willing to make plea bargains which keeps the whole system running a lot smoother. That made me feel pretty dang important sitting there reading my book.

What made me feel best about my day, though, was the bailiff who came in at the end of the day to tell us we were no longer needed. He was hispanic, with a strong accent, so clearly first or second generation in the US. His thanks was really heartfelt, he was actually choking up a bit as he said that we all say “thanks for your service” to military personnel, but jury duty is as important to making the country what it is. He reminded us that we have 2 duties as citizens, to vote and to serve on juries, and that we should be proud in our hearts to have been there today.

Sure, it all sounds shmaltzy as I type it out now. But I AM proud and happy to be a US citizen. And despite the political three-ring circus (or is that eight-ring?) I will proudly cast my votes in the March primary here in Texas. And next time YOU get a jury summons? Stop grumbling and take a good book.

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