Eight or nine years ago I was called to jury duty at the Champaign County courthouse. Even though I’m a newspaper reporter I ended up on two juries: one for a civil case over a dog bite and the other a criminal felony "three-strikes-you’re-out" case.
This week I was called to jury duty again. I got off a lot easier.
I ended up on no juries and had to wait only a couple of hours over two mornings in the jury assembly room before I was dismissed for the rest of the days. I didn’t even have to report on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
I’m no longer on call now for the "petit jury" system, which is different than a grand jury, for which I have never been called. A grand jury hears evidence from the state and then might or might not hand down criminal charges. As I recall from my courthouse-covering days, duty on a grand jury lasts for several months.
Anyway, if you’re wondering about petit jury duty here’s how it goes. You’ll receive a juror questionnaire in the mail. I think I received one, put it in my junk/mail room and forgot it. A few weeks later I received from the county clerk’s office a summons for petit jury duty. At first I believed I was being summoned for failure to answer and return the questionnaire.
Then I looked closer. I was to report for petit jury duty on July 18. I was not under threat of arrest. But failure to report for jury could result in my arrest.
The first day, Monday, July 18, a large group of us citizens reported at 9 a.m., bringing our individual summonses. A small corner on each of those was removed to serve as our juror badge. Each had a number and a bar code. My number was 131.
As the clerk "read" the bar code on my badge, I told her I had forgotten to answer and send in the questionnaire. She checked her computer and said one was on file for me and I must be more organized than I thought. I knew it was from my prior duty, though.
We all took random seats in the jury assembly room. Then Judge Heidi Ladd spoke to us. Not in person. She appeared on a large TV screen. Apparently a prior jury-orientation talk by her had been videotaped in winter because Ladd mentions the flu season. In the video, the judge gives an overview of jury duty, telling us what to expect.
She also told us we should not feel hurt if we are rejected for a jury. The reason for dismissal by a lawyer on either side of a case often is not personal, she said.
She also said if we had to wait for a while it wasn’t because the judges and lawyers were up in a courtroom, drinking coffee. (At that I exchanged a winking look with the guy sitting next to me.)
Then a sheriff’s deputy spoke to us, again by video. He warned us not to bring cellphones to the courthouse; they are not allowed because so many of them now have photography and video capabilities. He also told us not to bring any knives of any type to the courthouse. He said one juror once went out over the lunch hour to buy a wedding gift and brought it back to the courthouse. The gift, a box of knives, was confiscated.
We then sat and waited. I had brought a novel, Evelyn Waugh’s "Scoop" to read. The county provides a few magazines; among them I noticed a complete pet owner’s manual for the Rottweiler. I advise you to bring your own reading materials.
I noticed a few jurors working on laptops; those are kosher but courtroom security officers will examine them closely when you enter the courthouse and pass through the metal detector.
Finally a courthouse staffer came in and called off juror ID numbers for potential jury duty that day. My number was not up. So I along with other jurors whose numbers had not been called were allowed to leave. We were told to call the "coda-phone" after 5:30 p.m. to see whether we were needed the next day. I called; again my number wasn’t up so I didn’t have to report at all on Tuesday.
Tuesday evening I called and my ID number was up. I was to show up in the first-floor jury assembly room at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. I reported, along with a smaller group than the full panel on Monday, at 8:30 a.m.. After about 90 minutes we were told the case "had gone away" and we weren’t needed. The case probably was settled or dismissed.
That night I again called the coda-phone. All jurors for the week were told there were no jury trials on Thursday or Friday so our duty was done.
I must mention I enjoyed seeing, while on my way to and from the jury assembly room, Ron Schramm’s photographs on the hallway walls of various depictions (statues, mainly) of Abraham Lincoln throughout our state. I also found interesting a museum-quality program in a small room near the jury assembly room about Lincoln’s circuit riding days in East Central Illinois.
That room has two small benches facing a large screen, behind which are props like a chair and candle. Every once in a while lights come on behind the screen to light the props. I expected holography, but the objects appeared to be real 3-D!