Diary of a day in jury duty

A few months ago, I received a questionnaire about the possibility of the summoned for jury duty. Yikes, was my first reaction! I filled it out, indicated I was self-employed and mailed it off, hoping that was the end of it.

Then I received a summons to actually appear in court (in Ontario) the day after Thanksgiving, which was today. I’ll be completely up front and say I’ve been trying to figure out how to get out of it, ever since I got the summons. I have no issue with doing your civic duty, but I’ve yet to find a client who will pay me while I do that! Such is the nature of being self-employed, no work = no pay.

Here’s the lowdown of how my day fared:

9:00am - that’s when we are supposed to arrive. I got there more or less on time and sat in a room with 150 or so others in the same boat in a “jury assembly room”. Nothing happens for quite awhile. No one seems to know what’s going on.

9:30am - the court officer asks if anyone needs a letter for their employer proving they were here. A line up ensues. When the line dwindled to the last handful of people, I got in line to ask what the process is to request to be excused. I’m told once I’m called to a jury panel (to be on a jury), I will present my case to the judge then. I sit back down. Glad I brought my iPad so I could do a bit of email catch up and read while I sat there.

10:15am - Roll call starts. I’m number 3100-something, and he starts by calling out number 29. The people I’m sitting with all look at each other and laugh, we all have numbers in the high 2000’s or 3000’s. It will be a long day!  It turns out that there were juror numbers in the 6000’s! After this roll call, they tell us the judge will give the instructions shortly. So we sit and wait a bit longer.

10:40am - The court officer guy announces that there is a delay (clearly!) and we should feel free to go get coffee or use the restroom. Be back by 10:55. It seems like half the room got up to leave at that point…

11:30am - Finally, they started the process… The judge begins instructing us via closed circuit television feed.  He doesn’t say much yet and they go right into arraigning the accused. That seemed odd that we all see and hear that, unless it was supposed to be turned off at that point. The entire room hears the details of the accused names, the charges against them and they enter their pleas by charge. In this case, there were 4 charges brought against a pair of people - break and enter, weapons, drugs and something else. There is some confusion a few times and they disable and re-enable the feed. The net result was they plead guilty to 2 of the charges and not guilty for 2 of the other charges, therefore we are heading to a trial.  Part of the instructions are reading off the names of the victim(s), and all the witnesses the two sides plan to call in this trial, as anyone with personal knowledge of anyone on that list or the accused, you need to bring up to the judge if you are called in. It seemed like the witness list was 20 cops and a handful of civilians and no witnesses planned for the defense except the accused.

12:05pm - Now the full “regular” instructions are given including reasons, other than the above, why you might ask to be dismissed, such as planned (booked) vacation or out of town travel, financial hardship or employment issues, childcare issues etc. They are calling us in groups of 20 for a jury of 12 plus alternates (4 I think?). The Judge announces that this trial is expected to be 3 weeks long. The assembly room groans in unison. The first 20 potential Juror numbers are called and I’m hoping I’m in it, because I know a self-employed person would get exempted on such a long trial, or I assume I would. It’s tempting to shout “BINGO” when your number is called, but I didn’t get my chance… yes, I would be that smart-ass if given a chance!

12:10pm - the first 20 are called in and now we wait again. There is no real chance of knowing how long the wait might be before they get through this group of 20. A bunch of people get up as soon as the names are done, presumably to try to get some lunch. I sit tight, unsure what to do.

1:00pm - The Judge comes back on the TV feed with an announcement: One lawyer has an appointment out of town so we aren’t stopping for lunch and will go straight to 2:30pm when they are breaking for the day. Ugh. Another collective groan of the crowd. They are calling 20 more potential jurors now to the room. Took 50 minutes to process the first 20, so more people feel safe to escape and go down to the cafeteria to get some food. I did the same. The lineup was huge of course, as many of us had the same idea. It probably took twenty minutes to get food and bring it back upstairs, and at that time, the next pool of jurors were already lined up, we’d nearly completely missed it. I double checked if I was on the list and was not, so I sat down and ate my lunch.

1:45pm - The next wave of potential jurors is picked, and this time I’m picked first, potential juror #61. I pack up my bag and toss the remainder of my lunch and get in line. Once all 20 are accounted for, we are led to the courtroom.

From here it was interesting, and in my case, very brief. One court officer led the group of us to the courtroom down the hall. We are in order from 61 to 80. We are passed off to another court officer at the door who opens the door, bows to the judge and once greeted back (I think he had to wait for “permission” to proceed?), we were allowed to proceed in and told where to stand. Once we were all filed in, 2 rows of 10, I glanced around the room. The 10 jurors already selected were sitting in the jury box… that seemed a little surreal, like I was watching a TV show in a courtroom. The 2 accused were sitting nearest to us at 2 different tables because they had different representation. I didn’t notice if the victim was at the other desk. There were several people in front of the judge coordinating everything it seemed.

Since I was first, I didn’t get a chance to really see what went on with the whole process. First they confirmed my juror number and then the court officer showed me the card with my info on it, and asked me to confirm who I was. Nothing was spoken aloud, so I’m not sure if the jurors’ names are known to the lawyers after the trial is set or not. The judge simply asked if there was a reason why I should be excused from this trial and I explained that I was self-employed, which he didn’t ask for proof of (but could have), and said I was dismissed and allowed to leave the courthouse. That was that…

All in all it was an extremely boring day but part of me wishes I had an employer who I would get paid Jury Duty time from, as it would have been interesting to go through more of the process. That being said, they day cost me $20 in parking and $10 or so in food so I’m glad that I’m not there for 3 weeks as it’s already a short work week and it’s bad enough missing one day of income, let alone multiple in a week!

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