This week I received a most unwelcome piece of mail, a jury questionnaire form from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Once I mail it in, I know it is only a matter of time before I receive an actual summons for jury duty.
The irony in all of this is that for a couple of years in the mid-Nineties, I was the jury clerk for the Eastern District's branch court in Uniondale. Because the Eastern District comprised Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, eligible jurors in any one of those counties could be summoned to either of the District's three courts in Uniondale, Hauppauge, and the main court in Brooklyn. I remember having to deal with exasperated and angry jurors who sometimes travelled for several hours to make their way to the Uniondale court in Nassau County.
The reason for having some jurors from Staten Island, Brooklyn and eastern Suffolk travel all the way to Uniondale was to ensure that a racially diverse jury pool. This also meant that some Nassau County and Suffolk County jurors would be summoned to Brooklyn. I felt really bad for the Staten Island and Brooklyn residents who had to schlep all the way to the Hauppauge courthouse in Suffolk County.
The bad news is that where there were once three courthouses in the Eastern District, there are now only two. Uniondale and Hauppauge were shut down following the construction of a new Federal court complex in Islip. That means that if I am selected to be a juror (and you know I will be), Uniondale won't even be a possibility for me. Personally, I would prefer Brooklyn over Islip, because Brooklyn is more accessible for me via public transportation, whereas the Islip courthouse would require that I drive my car, which I am not anxious to do in these times of 4.22 per gallon gasoline. On the other hand, I am curious to see if any of my former co-workers at Uniondale are working at the Islip courthouse.
I do have some interesting moments from my time as the jury clerk at the Uniondale courthouse. In perhaps one of the most bizarre coincidences in human history, one man who was summoned to appear as a juror there one day also was a plaintiff in a case in the same courthouse that was scheduled to pick a jury for his case that same day. He actually showed up for jury duty that morning. It would have been even funnier if he was called to be in the jury pool for his own case.
One of my favorite episodes from that time was when I was in a room filled with people who had arrived for jury duty that morning. One of them, a 50 something woman with an Italian last name, was trying to convince me to excuse her from jury duty. She threw several lame excuses at me, which I shot down. Finally, she dropped the bomb on me. "I'm not proud to say it, but I'm prejudiced against certain kinds of people." I knew exactly what kind of people she meant, as did the young African-American woman who sat in the front row behind this lady as she rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Well, Mrs. B_______," I said, as I prepared to deliver the hammer blow to her, "the name of the defendant in this case is [Italian-American man's name], so unless you are biased against your fellow Italian-Americans, I don't think that should be a problem!" Practically everyone in the room burst out laughing, and the lady said to me sheepishly, "I have to serve then?"
"Yes, you do," I replied with a barely concealed grin. After she walked out of the room, I called out, "Is anyone here biased against Italians?"
If I end up getting picked for a case, I just hope it won't be a lengthy trial. That would really suck.