Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Being Served

Since jury service is the patriotic and legal duty of every American, and is a civil service to the community, I will share with you my service experience of today. It began a couple months ago when I received notice my name had been randomly chose and if I qualified, I would be on-call for jury service in Federal Court for a six-month period into July. I was recently summoned to report today for a trial expected to last 3 days. After a quick walk from the parking garage to the court in the rain, stood in line to have my possessions screened and to pass through the metal detector. Then, check-in with the clerk's office presenting photo ID - all by 8:15am - and not able to bring coffee, phone, a book... just me and about 40 other people I didn't know. Actually I saw 2 people wearing jeans which were specifically prohibited on the brochure, and a few had coffee (not mentioned in the mailer but assumed wouldn't be able to bring) and one had a book! I envied him! In our holding room, we waited ... and waited ... and waited, while randomly taking turns to use the restroom - it seemed to help with the increasing restlessness. Some were lucky to know others and struck up easy conversations. Otherwise, no windows, no visitors to give us a status report. It started to feel as though this may be a unique occurrence but being my first time in this court, really didn't know what to expect. The watched clock moved quite slowly... 8:30a, 8:45a, 9:00a, 9:15a, 9:30a... when finally we were told the delay was due to some discussions in the courtroom. We'd re-organize ourselves alphabetically with the help of the US Marshall and wait again until the judge was ready for us. Being a "D", I was 6th in line. This meant that once called, the first 16 would be seated in the jury box and the rest would remain in order using the courtroom seats. We were told 14 of us would be selected to serve and the rest would be excused. It was now about 10:00a when we got the word that the judge was ready. The courtroom was 4 floors above our holding room so it took several elevator trips to get us all up to the courtroom. Remember, I was 6th and the jury box holds 16, so I was seated in the front row. Figured that could be good - or bad - depending on one's perspective. The courtroom was stoically quiet. Once we were all in position, the Judge thanked us for our attendance and patience this morning - almost apologized, but instead said he regretted that we needed to come out this morning for though there had been a planned 3-day trial, the defendant pleaded guilty and the matter was settled. Being no further need for our presence or participation, we were excused. The judge explained that this was very unusual - in fact he said he doesn't remember it ever happening before during his 18 years on the bench. Normally a plea takes place well ahead of a jury physically being present and ready for a case. He said, however, some people do try to game the system. This particular defendant had made a plea earlier, then retracted it asking for a jury trial, and had really struggled with her decisions. So, when she was ready to again make a plea this morning, the judge explained he could not have us leave until the case status had been secured for fear that once we left there would have been another attempt to change her mind, which would have required the case to be again scheduled 3 or 4 months out. So we all had some time given back to us today and looks like we potentially saved the tax-payers some money by this case concluding and not being stretched out. So what was the case? Apparently today's defendant was accused (along with 2 others whose dispositions were/will be separately decided) of defrauding insurance companies and the federal student loan program. News stories on the web state "investigators say between 2011 and 2014, all three women submitted financial aid forms in order to get credit refunds while enrolled at Liberty University. The charges include mail, wire and student loan fraud. If convicted, all three women could go to prison for a long time. Some of these charges carry 20 years in prison each and several fines." No word yet on the sentence or the plea agreement, or whether that has even been decided yet. Since its only February - and I'm on-call for another four months... maybe my next time will be more routine and more exciting - or as a friend warned, just very "tedious" and "long" days.