The first time I got called for jury duty, I was a Midwestern teenager who was super excited to be part of the process. After all, I had grown up on a steady diet of LA Law, Hill Street Blues and before that Rockford Files, and all those cheesy 70s cop and crime shows that now seem like period pieces. This was my chance to have an active part in that story.
Fast forward a decade or two, and I’m not at all excited to be on a jury. The idea still is a great one – everyone participates, and decisions reflect the community.
Unfortunately, the reality of the community is a far cry from what I pretend it is, a stark reminder of the inequities and assumptions that society holds. For example, why do people always defer to the older men on the jury? In a room where no one knows each other, we tend to regress to the lowest common denominator. I get that. I just don’t need it reinforced as part of my civic duty.
As for jury duty itself, living in DC, I’ve been called every two years, almost on the dot. The city itself has a relatively small jury-eligible pool. Many residents never switch to DC driver’s licenses or register to vote here. And felons are barred from service until ten years have passed, when they re-enter the jury pool. And according to my colleague who just served on a jury earlier in the year, people just fail to show up.
So the rest of us get called like clockwork. So here are my tips for surviving jury duty:
- Pack well. Laptop, Kindle, physical reading material (electronic devices can’t be used during voir dire questioning), bottle of water, headphones for discreet phone conversations, extra phone charger. And everything charged the night before.
- Dress comfortably. Seems a no brainer, but wear something comfortable. There’s lots of sitting around and standing around in line – to come in and out of the building, to check in, to check out, to get your Metro stipend – so comfortable shoes are a must. Loose clothing helps as well, since there’s lots of lounge time. And it’s generally well air conditioned, so while I’ve never needed a sweater, packing an extra layer can’t hurt, especially if you tend to get cold.
- Take Metro. It goes without saying. Get off at the Judiciary Square stop, exiting at the courthouse. The building is just a block or so away.
- Reward yourself with lunch. Back in the day, there were no options for lunch, other than the cafeteria and a greasy spoon around the corner. Now there’s a Firehook right at the courthouse. Better yet, I can almost see Rasika from the main entrance. A quick jaunt over to the bar for some chicken green masala or palak paneer, naan …
Try to keep up with work. The courthouse now has wi-fi, so that’s huge. Maybe catch up on leisure reading if you can.
Most important, keep your head down, and hope you don’t get called. It’s August in DC, when everything slows down. Maybe even crime … ? One can certainly hope!