Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Happened During Jury Duty?

On August 5Th, I spent most of the day at the Multnomah County Courthouse, having been summoned for Jury Duty. What happened there that day can best be described as bizarre. Without giving you information (names,etc.) that could land me in some sort of Contempt situation, let me explain what I'm talking about.

After we all (there was about 200 of us) had settled in, a Judge came into the Jury Room to explain what we should expect. The Judge seemed to go out of their way in making sure we all knew their name. I found that to be a bit strange.

It wasn't long before the clerk began reading out jurists names, and telling these panels which courtroom they should report to. Later in the morning a particularly large group (30 or so) was told to report to the Judge who had briefed us earlier. It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes later that the all returned to the Jury Room. This was surprising to me, as I couldn't figure out how these 30 people could have been interviewed so quickly.

At around 11:30 another large (30) group was called to report to the same Judge's courtroom. I was in that group. Before we got to the courtroom, we were met by the Judge's assistant in the hallway who sheepishly led us in to the room. We were assigned numbers and seats and the Judge came in. First we were told of the charges brought against the Defendant. Next, we were introduced to the defense and prosecuting attorneys. We were told that the Defendant was not in the room, and that should have no effect on our work (huh?)

Next we were asked if any of us felt like we could not be objective in hearing this case. I was surprised when one jurist raised his hand to say that someone from the earlier pool had told him something the Defendant had said aloud to their pool. Of course this was a problem. The Judge asked if anyone else had heard what the earlier jurist had said. Another 5 or 6 hands shot up!

Long story short... our pool was excused same as the first pool. But something doesn't smell right.
1) Why didn't the Judge tell the first pool to keep their mouths shut about what they'd heard from the Defendant?
2) The Judge told us in their 25+ years as an attorney and Judge, this was the first time this had happened in their courtroom. They certainly gave no indication that it was upsetting to them.
3) I'm wondering if the Defendant was a person of color. In the 200 jurists, I could identify 1 African American woman, 2 Hispanic Americans, and 3 or 4 Asian Americans. That would make for around 3-3.5% minorities. If I was a person of color, I would want that percentage MUCH higher. If I was their defense attorney, I'd want that number MUCH higher as well.
4) I wonder if this may have been some kind of test/theatrics.

All I know is that of 200 people who showed up for Jury Duty on August 5th, about 20-30 actually did something. And they wonder why people try to get out of Jury Duty.

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