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  • All of my life, I've been waiting to be called for jury duty. I know that many people find the prospect of jury service to be a burden, but I see it both as an honor and a responsibility. It is part and package of being a law-abiding citizen and member of the community.

    Thirty-three years after being eligible to be called, I finally received a summons about two months ago. The date coincided with the closing on our condo in St. Petersburg, and so I had to call and excuse myself. I could tell by the tone of the person that I spoke with that they must get a lot of people calling, with a lot of weak excuses. It was clear that she didn't believe me. "Have you booked your flight yet?", she asked. "Yes", I answered, all too quickly. I remembered that I had looked and intended to book a flight, but that I was still hoping to get a better price. "Well, send in a copy of your booking confirmation, and we'll consider rescheduling you". I put the phone down and went to Kayak.com immediately. Two minutes later, I'd booked my flight, faxed my booking confirmation to the courthouse and my conscience was clear.

    Today was the big day, and I feel that I've been preparing for weeks. How do you best prepare for your role as a juror? I considered a diet of 'Twelve Angry Men' and old Ironside re-runs, but settled for pondering what reading materials to take with me. I made sure that I had loaded the Kindle app on my iPad with a few books that I've been looking forward to savoring.

    Last night, I finally got around to reviewing the paperwork. There was a form that I should have completed and sent back, which I'd omitted to do. I guess that it is a common mistake, because when I listened to the obligatory pre-recorded message, the first comment was that if you hadn't sent back your form, you should bring it with you on the day. They also warned that it was a very long message, and that if you didn't listen all of the way to the end, that you would miss very important information. I listened to all seven minutes of it (actually, I think it was six minutes, and I was a minute into the auto-repeat before I realized), and I think that they misrepresented themselves about there being a grand finale. I do however now know more about parking at the Wilmington courthouse (you pull into the building with the big sign saying P - A - R - K on it.. seriously, they went over this at least twice.. it just seemed like more).

    There were probably 250 of us serving our community this morning, and I have to say that the process is ripe for some streamlining. As I thought, the majority of people were bringing their forms with them, which had a total of 8 questions, I think. After we'd all checked in, they reviewed the forms and a clerk came out carrying a larger pile of them. These were the forms that were incorrectly completed. She called out name after name, and people each handled their failure in completing the form in different ways. Some blushed, some scurried, some were very nonchalant about it, some tried to make a joke out of it. After about 60 or 70 names were called out, I was long past seeing the funny side of it. I was just glad that my name didn't get called out.

    One of the rules had been that no cellphones are allowed into the courthouse. The telephone message had been very vague on what was and wasn't allowed. "No e-devices" it said, citing pagers, PDAs, cellphones, but then later saying that their was a cyber-area where there was limited room for computers. I chose to play it safe, and have the shared experience of internet withdrawal. I took a 'dead tree' copy of Philip Roth's latest novel with me, which I was enjoying until I came across a word that I wanted to look up in the online dictionary. Oh wait, I can't do that. It's at this point that I realize that my 45+ year love affair with the printed word is over. I'm all about the displayed word now.

    After multiple iterations of allowing people to amend/complete their forms (yes.. some people did manage to get it repeatedly wrong.. I somehow admired them.. reluctantly, but I did), and only after watching a very cheery video on the legal process and our civic duty to be part of the process, we were let out for a 20 minute break. When we got back to the waiting room, we settled in for a long day. The long day became a very short day, when after about five minutes, the clerk came back and told us that all seven cases had been settled without the need for a jury. We were free to go, once we'd picked up our certificates. As I waited, I remembered back to getting Sunday School certificates and prizes for attendance. This felt similar, with the prize being that we got back the rest of our day. The downside is that I'm still looking forward to my day in court (as a juror; not in any other capacity, you understand), and now I'll wait at least another two years until I have another chance.

    Photo: http://public-domain-image.com
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