Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jury Duty

I just served—it was easy. Nothing like it used to be. NYState court system is a good example of people having opinions about things that, are out dated.

How does jury duty work? You get a notification—the dreaded summons.
But wait, now it has a url, as well as a phone. So much easier. I had a number, and only had to report to the courthouse when my number was up.. (Each day, about 300 or so people were called –there are 3 main courthouses—300 to to each courthouse.
I had to call starting Friday the 4th, to see if I needed to come to court, starting the 7th.

Good news for me. I didn't have to report Monday, or Tuesday for that matter—This is a wonderful improvement, and if nothing else—did a lot to make jury duty easier. Wednesday, my number was up.
Good news here—I was to report to the closest courthouse!

The jury holding area had been moved since I last served. The new room was big, with oversized comfy chairs, and dozens of flat screen TV's (with the usually morning shows on.)

Along one wall where bookcases (about a 30 foot wall !) Filled with mostly fiction—Classical stuff, (the Bronte's, Dickens) and Sci-fi (Dune and several Steven King novels), and lots of other fiction. I had brought my nook with me, so I had plenty of reading matter, but it was nice to see—I found out later, there were a few (not quite a dozen) PC's in the back of the room, too. For those who needed to check email—though many had brought along lap tops, or mico computers,--and taking advantage of the numerous outlets, where they plug in and working in one of the comfortable easy chairs.

At about 10 AM, the TV's went silent, and one of the Court officers made some announcements. Basic rules, where the rest room were, and then they were taking attendance. They put on an informational video, and collected are summons, and in 20 minutes, were done. They would have been done even faster—but some people had problems with the basic directions (Remove Juror ID and keep, pass up the rest)

The whole process was fast and easy—and compared say to the process of becoming an audience member at the Wendy William show, faster, and smoother. There was less standing, less waiting, and better organization, (and fewer people were involved!) Now, in the jury assembly room, the waiting began in earnest.

Two hours passed. I got up and walked around, and sat and read. It was reasonable quiet (aside from the TV's . No one TV was very loud, but collectively.. well they could be heard everywhere.

Just before noon, they went off, and the court officer announce some of us were going to become a jury. A cohort of 60 of us were selected... me, too.

We walked the scant block (though we did have to cross a street) from the Borohall location to main Queen's court house building. It was a case of hurry up and wait.. but not for long, and there were lots of seats. Then we were ushered into the court room.

The judge started with some information to the group, and then dismissed us to lunch. The day was cool—clear, bright, and brisk. The fresh air was welcome. There are lots of places to eat nearby—some chains--(Subway &McD) a pizzaria, some diners, and some deli's. I got a small Subway sandwich and ate at the courthouse.. (there is a nice low wall—perfect for parking your self down to eat it was the sunny side of the street, but since it was in the 50°s, the sun felt good.
Subway is one of the further choices.. so I had a nice little walk to and fro--(it's also small and was crowded—so eating there wasn't even a consideration!)

Back to the grindstone at 2PM—which turned into 2:30...But blame the judge—the asst. DA was waiting, too, (not with us, but he kept coming back to see if the doors to courtroom were open—and they weren't)

Soon enough we were back in the court room and the first 18 jurors were selected.. (that is, for Voir Dire). It was interesting to watch. The Judge handed out a sheet and said, I am going to ask each of you these questions.. (How long have you lived in queens, are you married, where do you work—a lot of simple basic stuff. ) For some, getting answers to these questions was like pulling teeth. For others, it was a long narrative!

We exited the courtroom after everyone had their go at interviewing (that is first the judge, then the DA, then the Defendants attorney.) Then they decided on who would serve on the jury.

Back in again, and some jurors were selected--(not a full compliment of 12 plus alternates,) but it was late now— (4:30)and we were all dismissed for the day.

Thursday morning started at the courthouse—there were long lines for security (the usually empty your pockets, put our bag one the machine conveyor belt stuff. But the lines moved—Fast! When I first got to the court house, the line was just extending out the door.. but they rearranged the ropes, and in we went-- weaving our way round the ropes.

The there were LOTS of stations.. and a fast efficient process. We never stood still.. the line was in constant motion.. and I was through security in less than 5 minutes. It was more like a fast moving assembly line than a standing and waiting line.

We were told to be there by 9:30—by 10 AM most everyone had arrived.
And we began again.. I was called for the Voir Dire panel (the very last name!) and I did my bit. Answered the questions in a loud clear voice (the defendants attorney, rightfully complained some of the juror spoke so softly, it was hard to hear them.. Not me!)
Again, out of the courtroom and then back in, and more jurors were selected.. (not me!)

By the end of this second panel, it was 12:55. The judge called a recess, and dismissed those who had been part of voir dire back to the jury waiting room (Boro hall building, not court house)--and we were told to report there at 2PM. I walked about.. (there is a bit of park like area behind boro hall) it had been not quite raining but damp in the morning (I took an umbrella as I left the house) but by noon it was drier.

Back to waiting. The TV had some soap opera on. At 3PM, the court officer came out, and thanked us for our service.. He had a stack of papers (letters of record of our having served) and started calling our names..

I was called second—and caught the 3:15 bus... It was that fast!

The whole process was a bit boring.. and involved a lot of “hurry up and wait” —but all in all everything was done faster, and by fewer people than the audience at the TV. We had more comfortable and attractive waiting area, nice seats, and were treated with more respect.

Government might not be perfect—but they do get things right. NYState long ago fixed up the DMV—line are fast, and its a well organized process--A license renewal, with a new photo and an vision test takes less than 15 minutes.

I am sure there are places were the government doesn't work. But clearly, the courts (at least the state courts) work as a well oiled machine.
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