Today I almost got to fulfill one of the items on my “bucket list”, I almost got to serve on a jury. Growing up in Xenia, which is, after all, the county seat, I always loved the courthouse and especially the courtrooms, which I got to see first on a field trip in elementary school.
I liked them so much as a matter of fact that when I became a teacher I used to take my freshman Civics class to town to tour the city building, county building and courthouse. It was an arduous field trip to organize since it involved so many students, at least a hundred.
I had to negotiate lots of red tape. Permission slips from parents, requests for buses, dispensations from the cafeteria head lunch lady that our absence from the school at lunchtime would not cause her to go bankrupt, admonitions from my principal not to lose track of, lose, allow to sneak off and drink/screw or create mayhem any of my students. It literally took months of planning for a four or five hour tour.
But, I loved my civic buildings and I loved my students and I was firmly convinced that actually going to the county building and looking up tax assessments on their houses and having them talk to the county Treasurer–he was always nice to my students, unfortunately he recently ran into some person trouble–would make them more conversant in how county government works than reading about the duties of the treasurer’s office in a textbook.
So, for quite a few years I bundled up my teenagers, loaded them on buses–having recruited some brave ( or foolish) parents to act as chaperons and we bounced the couple of miles to downtown Xenia.
I divided the students into three groups. One group would tour the offices in the city building and talk to officials and workers, another would tour the county building and the third would tour the courthouse. Then they would rotate until all three groups had experienced all three buildings and the folks who worked in them.
One of the things I was not prepared for when I began the “Government in Action Tour” was how delighted the usually blase city and county workers would be to see my freshmen. In particular one event stands out. We toured the county building which also houses the county jail. We were supposed to see the auditor and the treasurer and the county administrator and talk to a Sheriff’s Deputy about the functioning of the Sheriff’s office.
All went according to plan until we went to the Sheriff’s department. The little deputy, who bore more than a passing resemblance to a leprechaun, got so excited to see the kids that he decided we needed to take them TO the actual jail part of the building. Before I could demur my students, who were, of course, delighted, had swarmed into the elevators and we were headed for the jail cells.
Our guide went in first and admonished the prisoners about language, etc. and explained he wanted the young folks to see that jail was no place they ever wanted to be–kind of a Xenia version of “Scared Straight.”
We dutifully trooped in behind him when he came back for us. The students’ eyes were wide and some of them hung back kind of hugging the walls across from the bars. We had been there about two minutes when one of the inmates, a nice looking blond young man, rushed the bars calling, Mrs. Newsom, Mrs. Newsom, it’s me, Mike.” One of my former students had been arrested for grand theft auto and was in the county jail awaiting trial. My students, needless to say, got a great big kick out of that one!
But, today I was ready to interact with the justice system in a more orderly way. After getting slightly lost–I have only been to downtown Raleigh about four times–I made it to the Carabbus Street county parking garage and noted there was a sign that said “juror parking.” I parked, and walked the two blocks to the courthouse, virtuously passing a Krispy Kreme store on the way.
Once in the courthouse I had to go through a metal detector with an eclectic group of people, some of whom I suspect were there to interact with the justice system in a not so orderly way. I made my way to the 6th floor and entered the Jury Lounge, a large room with probably 60 or 70 people sitting in a variety of chairs, some around tables. After checking in with the cheerful blond receptionist/clerk I was told we would be “starting” around 9:00, or in half an hour.
I found a seat and was joined at the table by a rather large black woman named Karen and a truly enormous white woman named Kay. Both were nice and we traded info about jobs and life. Both of them hated the idea of being on the jury. I, of course, wanted to be on the jury.
We sat there talking for about half an hour, interrupted only by a five minute film about what we were expected to do. Then the clerk came in to read names of people to go to courtroom 3B. I was not among them, both Karen and Kay were. That is the way fate messes with people.
I mournfully settled in to wait to see if another trial would need jurors when about 15 minutes later word came up that courtroom 3B needed more jurors! I had another chance! The clerk informed us she would read off 10 more names. She began to read and got through 9 people, I was settling back with my Better Homes and Gardens when at last she said my name!!! Hallelujah! I was going to the court and could perhaps get to at long last be on a jury!
So I happily grabbed my purse and scarf and hustled for the elevator to the 3rd floor. I announced to everyone in the elevator that I really, really wanted to be on the jury. Most of the people took a slight step away from me, eying me suspiciously as if I might be dangerous.
The courtroom was impressive and the judge, who was a type cast chubby faced white man with a good ole boy accent and white hair, told us he was a Superior Court Judge and the case we might get to be involved with was a criminal one, the defendant having been charged with aggravated assault and theft. I was a little disappointed, I really wanted a murder.
He explained the facts of the case to us and then his clerk called the names of 12 people. Again, Kay and Karen were both called, again I was not. Eventually after questioning–voir dire– 7 people were excused from the jury. Three by the prosecution, four by the defense.
I still had a shot. Alas, I was not called for the ensuing 7 replacements and one more of them who was dismissed and replaced.
I wandered back up to the Jury Lounge, only to be told I was excused for the day and my name would not be put back in the pool of potential jurors for two years.