They Also Serve……

The jury summons came in the mail, posing the classic dilemma: do my civic duty, or try to weasel out?
This time, at least, I opted for duty and showed up at Circuit Court on Church Circle in Annapolis at the appointed hour.
8:00 a.m. Checked into the jury room and was promptly given three crisp $5 bills, my juror’s per diem. A total of 180 jurors has been summoned on this day. We are seated in long rows of chairs facing a lectern flanked by flags.
8:10 a.m. A 14-minute video, complete with music, entitled “You the Jury” plays on the two large television monitors in the jury waiting room,
8:25 a.m. Marci Mustachio, the Jury Commissioner, comes to the lectern to announce that there are 16 criminal cases on the docket today in which the defendants may, or may not, ask to be judged by a jury of their peers. So, she says, enjoy the television or check out the library, which she warns is mostly stocked with romance novels. The jurors start to get restless, wondering if we are going to get a trial or just wait.
8:30 a.m. Bailiff announces that it is going to take time to work through the docket, so we get our first break, until 9 a.m. Entire juror pool troops to the cafeteria, where a small coffee, “Columbia Bold,” goes for $1.44, the “egg and meat” sandwich, $3.45.
8:45 a.m. “CBS This Morning” is on the television. Feature entitled “Kung Fu Writing” tells us that Bruce Lee’s new memoir “packs a philosophical punch.” Charlie Rose looks dubious.
9:05 a.m. Judge Mark Crooks addresses the jurors and gets a nice laugh about his last name. He thanks us for our service and tells us that “seeing you here this morning restores my faith in democracy.” Jurors smile and shift in their seats, getting more restless.
9:15 a.m. “Today” is on the TV. Weatherman Al Roker, wearing a Northern Michigan Wildcats sweatshirt, is bounding about the set wildly excited about something. Jurors are not wildly excited.
9:45 a.m. Bailiff announces 20-minute break, explaining that the Judge is till working through the docket. The wheels of justice are grinding slowly. Man seated on my left groans, says: “I’ve got to call my office.” Woman in front row dozes off.
10:30 a.m. “Let’s Make a Deal” on TV. Contestants wildly excited. Jurors not.
10:45 a.m. Sudden activity! Bailiff summons 60 of the 180 jurors to empanel a jury in an armed robbery case. They troop out to the courtroom for voir dire, the selection process. The rest of us sit back and watch “The Price Is Right” on TV. Man seated on my right is grumpy: “If this was a business,” he growls, “they’d be bankrupt.”
11:15 a.m. Class dismissed! Bailiff announces that remaining 15 cases have either been settled or the defendants have chosen to have their fates decided by a judge alone. Jurors, delighted, head out the door.
For the next three days, as instructed by my summons, I call the Circuit Court recording after 5 p.m. to learn, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, that I am not needed the next day. Duty fulfilled. Sort of.
Frustrated and not a little bit annoyed by the whole process, I call Marci Mustachio to ask if, in this age of the internet and social media, there is not a more streamlined way to produce the jurors that the courts need and not keep hundreds of others waiting, watching daytime TV. Some 800 jurors were summoned this week, only a fraction of whom were empaneled on juries.
In essence, the cheerful Ms. Mustachio, says no, not really. On a typical day, two or three cases will require juries. She needs to be ready to meet the needs of the judges. Besides, jurors used to be kept on call for two weeks. Social media won’t work, she says, “because not everybody is on the internet. My father, for instance, wants no part of it.”
Also, neighbors who have actually served on juries report that it is a fascinating experience, well worth the time. One, who found the defendant guilty of a felony after a draining, four-day trial and two days of deliberation, described it as “an intensely human experience.”
Did he emerge thinking that justice had been done? I asked. Had the system worked? He thought about that for a minute and said: “Yes, in this case, it did.”