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Jury Duty

            When I first received a jury questionnaire in the mail, back in the spring, I wrote in the space provided about my various health issues and why it would be difficult for me to manage a full day of jury duty, let alone several days of a trial, and asked to be excused. When I didn’t hear back from them with a request for more information, I thought I’d done enough to be let off the hook. But the jury summons came anyway, on the same day that I’d gotten clearance from the Pulmonologist for my oral surgery, and the summons was dated for the week of the surgery itself.

“Oh, come on, people!”

I was able to postpone the summons for a few weeks, but I didn’t even try to get out of it completely; partly because I felt guilty trying to get out of jury duty, and partly because I didn’t want to go through the humiliation of trying to prove to my doctor that my disabilities are significant. I’d gotten out of jury duty a while back with a doctor’s note, when they were going to send me to Brooklyn (an hour and a half trip each way, by train, in the summer), but I had a doctor I trusted back then, and I knew for sure that I wouldn’t have been able to handle that trip, no matter how hard I’d tried. But this time, it was different, or I kept thinking it was.

            I told myself that I’d only have to drive twenty minutes each way, because the court complex is nearby, and I knew the route, and even if the weather was disgusting, I’d be inside most of the time, and sitting. And then my surgery was postponed too, with jury duty coming first instead of second, so I really didn’t see any way out of it.

            One of the more stressful things about jury duty, in my area at least, is that instead of being told to come in on a specific day, you are put on call for a week, meaning that every day at five o’clock you have to check the website to see if your number has been called for the following day. But I was lucky, this time, because when I checked the website the Friday before my summons week, I found out that I was being called for Monday, which meant I had the whole weekend to prepare: do the food shopping and the laundry, take extra naps, fill up my book bag with all of the things I’d need, and thank god I didn’t have to wait until five o’clock each day, for the rest of the week, to find out if I’d have to go in the next morning.

“But who’s gonna take me out to pee?!”

            I feel like I should be one of the people who is actively interested in every part of the justice system, and in doing my civic duty, and I keep thinking that I should use jury duty as a way to research future novels and learn about police procedure and all that. And, beyond that, I feel like jury duty is an obligation, like voting, and I don’t want to be one of the people who lies to get out of jury duty and then laughs about how juries are all made up of the stupid people who can’t get out of it. But I don’t have much energy, and I have a lot of social anxiety issues that make things like this ten times harder than they should be, and, whenever I’m near a police officer or inside of a court building, I think I’m going to be arrested.

            My mom has only been called for jury duty once in her life, and, so far, I’ve been called five or six times. I don’t know how I got so lucky. The first time I’d just graduated from college, and I was really nervous, but also kind of excited. I went through the voir dire, where the lawyers ask potential jurors all kinds of questions to see if they’ll be a good juror for the case, and when they asked if I’d ever been the victim of a crime, I had to say, uh, yeah, and the guilty party got away with it. I thought about saying no, just to see what it would be like to be chosen for a jury, but I’m not a good liar. Another time, I vaguely remember that we were given damp sandwiches and bused to another location that looked like a repurposed elementary school, but I was scratched, again, when they got to the victim-of-a-crime question. There was another time when I had to call in each day, for a week, to find out if they needed me, and they never did. That was probably the worst.

“Waiting sucks.”

            Even during my short stints at jury duty, though, it’s become clear that the lawyers just aren’t as interesting as the ones on TV, and the cases aren’t as dramatic or convoluted, and there’s almost never a twist ending, which is just disappointing. Instead it’s a lot of sitting around and waiting. If only I could bring one of the dogs with me for company – though there’s a very good chance that Cricket would get me arrested.

            I should have asked for a doctor’s note, because I’m just so tired all the time, and because Mom was still recovering from her second hip surgery, and because the dogs needed me, and because I needed to keep the apartment relatively livable, but I was too chicken. So I went.

            I packed diligently: phone, phone charger, jury summons, extra mask, book to read for fun, book to read for serious, notebooks and pens, oatmeal in a thermos (with a spoon), gingerale (in case of nausea caused by anxiety), and wet wipes.

            I got to the courthouse a few minutes early and found a seat in a corner of the central jury room, which was, thankfully, well air-conditioned and big enough to leave room for social distancing. Most people wore face masks, even though we were allowed to show our vaccination cards to get out of it, and after a little while of sitting there and staring around the room at each other, we watched a few videos: about jury service in New York and about implicit bias (how we fill in a picture when it is incomplete, based on assumptions that may not be true). And then we waited. A bunch of names were called while I played with my phone: sent an email and a text, did some water sorting and some Duolingo. And then we waited some more. I finished reading my book-for-fun (Rhys Bowen’s God Rest Ye Royal Gentlemen) and another group of names were called, and then we waited again. My phone was running out of power, but I was too scared to go wandering around looking for a place to charge it, so I got some writing done, and read some of the serious book (Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God), and then some more names were called and then we waited again. It was getting close to lunch time by then, and my neck and back hurt, and I was wondering if we would be sent to a cafeteria or let out for the hour and a half for lunch, and wishing I could go home and take a nap. And then my name was called. A whole group of us were led into a smaller, less well air-conditioned room, and I was really worried that we would be sent to do a voir dire right away and miss our lunch break altogether, and my headache would keep getting worse and I’d end up crying, or yelling at someone, or getting myself arrested, somehow. And then a non-descript man came into the room with a big pile of papers and told us that the rest of the cases for the day had been settled, and we would be going home early. There were quite a few hoots and hollers and Praise Gods and then we were called up one by one to get our printed sheet confirming that we had completed our jury service. And that was it.

            It had rained at some point while we were deep inside the court building, far from any windows, but the air outside still felt wet and thick as I walked across the street to my hot car, but…I was free!

            But even as I was driving home, hours earlier than expected, I wasn’t quite able to process what had happened. Time had slowed down so thoroughly in that big, isolated, jury room, with all of the empty spaces filled with anxiety about what might happen next, and not trusting myself to know how to answer the lawyers’ questions if I was called in to try out for jury and worried I would end up on a five week trial because I was too scared to say no. And then, suddenly, I was free, and I was still awake and aware enough to drive home without needing to pull over to rest, and even though I was a little bit shaky with fatigue, I was actually okay.

            And then I was home. Mom and the dogs met me at the door and I was able to take a nap in my own room, with puppies for company, and eat whatever I wanted to eat instead of whatever I could fit into a thermos. It wasn’t the easiest day of the summer, but it wasn’t the hardest one either, after all. All summer long there’s been one challenge after another, and even if it hasn’t been easy, each challenge has been met, somehow. And even though I’d much rather not be in survival mode endlessly, it’s good to know that if I need to survive, I can do it. I just hope I won’t get another jury summons too soon, and Mom won’t need another new hip for a while, and things will start to calm down a little bit.

But…I’m not holding my breath.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

76 responses »

  1. Hurrah, you got through it! I actually enjoy jury duty, though I’ve only once sat on a jury. Most of the time it’s as you describe, calling, waiting, dismissal. I’m probably due for a notice again soon…

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  2. I’m glad you survived the process! For many years I never got called for jury duty and wondered why. Then suddenly I made the list and got called again and again, and served twice. That was enough. You’re definitely right, it’s not nearly as interesting as you hope it will be.

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  3. Nothing so satisfying as a summer survived! You’ve had an interesting one. Congratulations on making it to August!

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  4. I’ve never been called for jury duty. I hope when I retire that it is something I get asked to do. I think giving back to the system as you have written is good.

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  5. Yea for you!! Thank you for your service. I served once and agree, it wasn’t very interesting – 2 drunk neighbors fighting. lol

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  6. I have been called for jury duty so many times and was even foreperson once. But my husband has never been called up. What’s the deal??!! You met the challenge–yay for you, Rachel! I think Cricket might have secretly put in a call to the judge, but you didn’t hear it from me… 🤐

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  7. Hi Rachel, I so sympathize with your dilemma. When I received a jury summons years ago, I knew I couldn’t do it due to disabilities. My doctor wrote the note to let the court system know that I couldn’t fulfill jury obligation EVER. I’ve not received further summons–what a relief. So I would encourage you to kick out any thoughts/fears of “humiliation” or the idea of “having to prove” your health issues–which totally makes me crazy because I’ve been-there-done-that at the beginning of my “disabled status” (over 25 years ago).

    Your book sounds really fascinating!

    Dear heart, I’m keeping you in my prayers that all this will be resolved swiftly–and for complete healing in all areas.💖Leyde/Leslie

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  8. Gee, that was really a close call. Glad you did your duty and got it over with.

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  9. Phew. Let’s hope you don’t get called again, or at least not for a very long time!

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  10. I got called for jury duty in the NYC area several years ago. It got to us going into a room with lawyers for both sides to ask questions and figure out who would be on the jury for the case. Then we heard the case was settled. They did not need us after that. Sitting through jury duty with an issue can be quite a problem. Bad back, neck etc. can make it a no go. They make people sit for hours in hard chairs.

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  11. It was nowhere near as bad as you feared and you coped admirably.

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  12. That is too much like mental torture. I’m relieved that you didn’t have to hear a case. After two periods of jury service in UK I am convinced that the process is more about group dynamics than about justice anyway

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  13. I was never called for Jury duty, and since I worked for the police in London from 2001-2012, I doubt I ever will be now. (Presumed bias) However, when I was an EMT, I was called a few times to give evidence as a witness at murder trials, and being cross-examined by the defence makes you feel like you did something wrong.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  14. I’ve been called up twice. The first case was settled out of court so everyone was sent home early. In the second case, I was eventually excused because I knew the county prosecutor personally. This would have potential for conflict of interest. I was disappointed both times because I wanted to participate in the trials.

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  15. I was called 3 times for Jury selection, but only attended once (I was out of town for the other two and was excused). After sitting in the court for 4 hours, the jury pool for the case was full and I was lucky enough to go home. My wife has never been called and many other friends and neighbours have not been called. I guess we just fit the demographics Rachel. Glad it worked out for you. 🌞

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  16. Você decididamente escreve muito bem. Goste de acompanhar suas postagens.

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  17. I’ve never been called for jury duty, so I found your description of what it’s like interesting- thank you!

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  18. I thought I would never be chosen for a jury because I had worked in law enforcement, but I have served on several juries. One had a few twists, which made it quite exciting (we were delayed for a day because the man bringing the charges needed transportation–it turned out he was in jail and stood in the box shackled! That was a picture! Then his attorney opened up a line of questioning which allowed the other attorney to prove his client was innocent. We wondered if he had done it intentionally (because he knew his shackled client had lied about the event or if he was just inept). The waiting, though, can be challenging.

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  19. I’m sure that TV shows make jury duty appear much more glamourous than it is in real life. I’ve always thought that being on a jury would be a way I could serve my state, or country, and I’d like the experience just to know what it really is behind the smoke and mirrors of TV cameras. I’m glad you not only made it through everything, anxiety and all, but also can give yourself some credit for being stronger than you often think you are!

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  20. Thanks for doing your civic duty, Rachael, and with your condition it was really a case of going up and beyond.

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  21. I’ve only been called once, but was excused on health grounds, including I cannot sit for long periods, and long car journeys are out of the question now. I received a letter to say I was excused within 10 days. Glad it all worked out OK for you.

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  22. Well done, Rachael, for doing your civic duty! Not an enviable task, that’s for sure, especially in Chicago, as I’ve found numerous times. And I love Rhys Bowen’s books.

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  23. I ONCE got a phone call for Jury duty in my 20’s and when I called to see IF I would come down to be evaluated to be a potential juror…I was told the jury was already picked. Over 30 years later, never got another call 🫤

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  24. Glad you were able to get out of it

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  25. I’ve gotten on a few juries and the cases were really annoying, personal injury/slip and fall type stuff, blech!

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  26. You felt exactly how i would feel, in everything you say. Well done for being brave enough to not chicken out.

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  27. I’ve been on jury duty a few times and as you say it’s never as interesting as on TV. Glad you made it through.

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  28. I was on jury duty once. I really wished I could convict the prosecutor of something. Unfortunately being rude, horrible, obnoxious and pretending to know things you couldn’t possibly know isn’t a crime. The whole case was about what the guy on trial was thinking – whether he was trying to commit suicide by cop because he was a 3-striker and didn’t want to go back to prison for the rest of his life or whether he was really trying to shoot a cop. The guy on trial was very polite and also was a former military sniper sharpshooter who could probably hit a dime a mile away. At pretty close range he had just sent bullets zinging past the cop without hitting anything so the suicide thing was pretty obvious since if he’d actually been aiming at the cop he’d be dead, but of course that’s not what the prosecutor said. Apparently the cop was not actually targeting him either or was not a very good shot since he missed too. The prosecutor was very self-important with an “I’m better than everyone else” attitude and acted like he was so sure he knew what the guy was thinking – even though if anybody actually knew that there wouldn’t even have been a trial. Of course, he smugly said trying to kill the cop. The guy ended up getting sent back to prison where within a year or two it was on the news that he managed to get shot and killed by a guard so that pretty much proved the suicide point. You are lucky you didn’t get assigned to a case.

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  29. My MD-hubby has been an “expert witness” a few times and he also says courtrooms are nowhere as exciting as they are on TV. When he was asked what kind of doctor he was one time and he replied, “Family Practice”, the judge interrupted and said, “You know, I just wish one of you would say, ‘a damned good one’ one time.” 🙂

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  30. Medical reasons are legitimate to be excused from jury duty. So next time get a doctor’s note. Although I served in one trial, my wife was excused because of her hearing aides. Have a wonderful day, Rachel.
    Art

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  31. I’ve never served on jury duty. Once, I got a letter saying I would be in a lotto pool for jurors but nothing came of it. I think it would an interesting experience and I’m willing to do it if called.

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  32. I appreciate everything you wrote and admire your sticktoitiveness in realizing jury duty. When I was teaching all the time, I needed to be excused from jury duty, and I was. Then recently I got the summons, and I went in. Much of what you experienced I experienced as well, though I think you live in a much more populous area than I, which seems to make everything take longer and become more bureaucratically involved. Good work!

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  33. I’ve gotten a lot of summons over the years, but was excused from every one. I say, and it’s true of course, that it would cause me “extreme financial hardship” if I were to be off for an indeterminate length of time. The low paying kind of jobs I’ve had would probably have replaced me if I were gone for long. Yes, their not supposed to do that, but I didn’t want to hassle it. Plus the ridiculous pay the courts offer hardly makes up for your regular work pay (not that it’s that much anyway).

    But another reason I don’t go is philosophical. I simply don’t want to be party to possibly putting an innocent person behind bars. It happens. It’s often not actually the weight of the evidence that convicts someone or not, but the oration savvy of the various lawyers. Also the intelligences and prejudices of the jurors.

    And who can know all of the evidence anyway? I once heard a Jewish (I think) story that said something like, if you observe a man with a maniacal look on his face going into a house with a knife, then come out again with it bloodied, get into his car and take off, then discover that someone was killed by knife inside, while the average person would convict based on that evidence, you cannot, because you weren’t actually there and have no idea what actually happened. You didn’t see it. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe he killed himself. I’m not saying that a truly guilty party should not be punished, though. On the contrary. If it’s open and shut, or with clear, unquestioned video evidence I might have done it, all things being equal as well.

    Nowadays, though, no, I wouldn’t do it even if everything else was ok. I am just not at all interested in any more negativity or politics.

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  34. I’m glad you got out of it without more fuss. The last time I was excused for financial hardship (sole support of my household, unpaid for 10 days and then paid some minimal amount for a case that was expected to last 3-4 months). Before that, I was rejected by the defendant’s lawyer. And before that, there were few cases on the docket and they had filled all the jury requirements. The one before that, I was excused due to being in uni. I think that was it. So, only 4 times.

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  35. What a gripping account – I was transfixed, Rachel. YOU are a great writer!

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  36. I wish I didn’t see jury duty as anything but a waste of time because I know it’s important. But these days I’m really not able to get to any of the locations they want to send me to, and since I’m using oxygen and a walker or wheelchair even getting into a jury room is a trial. (Pun not intended but there you are.)

    BTW, your puppers are adorable. Such sweet little faces.

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