Friday, June 06, 2008

Jury Duty on the Horizon

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.

6 comments:

tina FCD said...

I got called for jury duty. The guy copped a plea. The judge came out and said, "well, everyone can go home." I said, "good, now I can hit the lake and go fishing", which prompted a short conversation on fishing! :)

bullet said...

Bring a book.

When I was in Long Island City, I got called for jury duty. That was just fine since the courthouse was just down the street from me, you know, at the Courthouse Square stop on the 7 train. NOPE. I got to go to JAMAICA every day for three days. In the summer. Man, was I pissed off.

What pissed me off even more, though, was the number of people who were excused for either not speaking English or pretending to not speak English. However, every single one understood, "Ok, you can go." They still get to vote, right?

I didn't have to serve, though. I was there for three days and sat for two separate cases: one was filled before they got to me and the other was a civil suit involving a cabbie and reckless driving. When the lawyer asked me if I thought that cab drivers were (something to the effect of) safe and responsible , I blurted, "Are you kidding?" "You're dismissed." It wasn't intentional, just funny.

And I still had to sit there for another day and a half.

Anonymous said...

I just received a jury duty questionnaire myself from the Eastern District Court in NY - did you get selected to appear after returning the questionnaire? If so, how long afterwards?

Tommy said...

Hi Anonymous,

I still haven't received a summons yet. I expect I will get it before the end of the year though. I don't recall what the time lag was from when I was a jury clerk at the court.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever called? Brooklyn or Central Islip?

josie said...

Hi, I know this is an old post, so I hope you'll see it.
I recently got another one of those juror questionnaires. It's probably the 3rd or 4th one I've received in the past 15 yrs. I used to have a working visa so I just mail a copy of that as proof I'm not a citizen an so am not eligible for jury duty. However, now I have a green card and I'm wary of sending a copy of that. How safe is the information I send in and how will the paperwork be protected? Since you've worked in the system, I'm hoping you can give me some light on my concerns. Thanks.