October 26, 2006

Duty

It felt like I had spent the day in a poorly conceived self-help group, somewhere between punishment and a quest for deeper understanding. At the end of the day I was deemed both unworthy and rewarded with no further sentencing. That was jury duty.

The night before my summons, I packed my bag like I was about to leave on an airplane trip, making sure there were no “weapons” tucked inside and plenty of snacks. I could barely sleep that night because of excitement about this unknown adventure to a real Georgia court house.

In the crowded jury room, I was selected as one of 50 people to be part of a case involving the suicide of a heart surgeon who was in a mental institute at the time of his death. The widow was suing the hospital and specific doctors for negligence. We were given a paper survey to complete about our experiences with mental illness, suicide and divorce.

The morning passed in a small courtroom being asked group questions, “How many people here have…” and “Do any of you feel that…”. There were at least ten lawyers in the room, taking furious notes. Big money was at stake.

After lunch, one hour on our own, I had sushi at a nearby place, the individual questions began. We were all forced to sit and listen as one at a time each of the fifty people stood up and were questioned by three lawyers. They wanted to know about families, children and of course the personal questions on the written survey.

We heard all about aunts, uncles, sisters and mothers, committing suicide, having bad medical experiences or being treated for a mental illness. They would give us breaks, so the lawyers could question certain people in private or they could discuss which people they were going to pick.

Every break we all milled in the hallway outside the room. As the hours went by I learned more and more about the other people. It was odd, but surprisingly not embarrassing to know such personal details about these strangers. The judge had told us to expect a two week minimum trial, which worried some and made others happy about the break from work.

I was somewhere in the middle, knowing that missing two weeks of work right now would be very bad, since I’m on my first big project at a relatively new job, but also that the case sounded interesting and it really had the feel of an adventure.

At 5:30 with ten jurors still to be questioned, we started to wonder if we would all be back the next day. They questioned five more, sent the other five home and then made their selections. In the end I was happy not to be picked. I’d had enough of lawyers and doctors and sitting and waiting. I do wonder what the outcome of the case was, what the real story was and how it all played out. Maybe next time I’ll be picked.

2 Comments

  1. what an exciting case — but I agree that by the time it would have started I would have felt a bit drained listening to so much. It’s hard to imagine anyone gets a fair trial nowadays!

    Comment by rosie — October 30, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

  2. I’m kinda bummed that as a lawyer I can’t ever be on a jury. When I was very young my dad was on a murder jury trial and he has great stories about it. The case sounds a great deal like a real life story I know – one of my friends in grade 7’s dad was a doctor who committed suicide. Very sad.

    Comment by Heather — November 1, 2006 @ 9:12 am

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