During the holidays in December a jury summons arrived in the mail, with instructions to call in for scheduling details the first week of January.
Thankfully, that first call at the start of the new year brought a bit of reprieve, with the recorded message announcing no upcoming trials and telling us to call in again in two weeks. For the Pendleton Municipal Court summons to jury duty, it’s always a question of how frequently the call to serve will be enacted.
I’ve been summoned twice before to this form of jury duty while still working in an academic setting, and at those times, I filled out the form requesting postponement, indicating my availability during the summer months. And even then, there were only a few times we were required to show up in person for selection to the actual trial jury. At those sessions I never was seated in a juror’s chair to hear the trial and decide the fate of the accused. Perhaps that will change with this summons.
It was a different experience this past summer with a request for service on the circuit court grand jury. This involved appearing at the first meeting along with all others who had received notification. The judge, district attorney, and court staff presented instructions and scheduling of meetings, and took our questions.
We were roughly divided into three groups of ten jurors with a weekly obligation of appearing either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon for the months of July, August, and September. The judge named each group of seven jurors and three alternates for each day’s assigned jury. A minimum of seven jurors are required to hear the facts of each case to determine its trial worthiness, with alternates available to fill in any absences that might occur.
On that first day, my seating neighbor and I exchanged a few comments, as she had questions about the form we filled out. I offered my understanding of what the form required, but suggested there might be others in the room with similar concerns, and so her questions were raised for the staff to answer. We were both relieved to be among the alternates in our pool.
It turned out that an alternate was needed at our first meeting in the small conference room where we convened. I volunteered to get a sense of how the process worked. Throughout the next weeks, we cycled through to take the place of an absent juror with some regularity, and I discovered that a sense of common purpose and support had begun to develop among the permanent group.
Well represented across age range, ethnicity and occupations, the group included some who drove in from other communities in the county. Most weeks the afternoon hours were sufficient for completing the docket. Sometimes there were lulls in the proceedings as we waited for a witness to appear, or a technical glitch to be worked on.
As the weeks went on those empty minutes would find small talk filling the room, photos of grandkids or a weekend trip shared on a phone, or a concern about a longer absence of a fellow juror. One of us returned to report coming through a COVID-19 experience. And after a particularly long session ran late, people started bringing in snacks to keep energies from flagging.
With each passing week, the civic responsibility we had taken on saw us developing a sense of empathy and care for the others in the room, strangers though we still were to one another. One of the permanent jurors was working two jobs that involved late night hours, and we cautioned him to drive carefully and not risk a citation or accident to join us on time. That’s why we had alternates sitting on the periphery at the start of each session.
Our last meeting in September brought acknowledgement that we had carried out a valuable civic responsibility, asked important questions on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants, and found a meaningful experiential connection to each other. Glad to have served on this jury, I believe what is of greatest significance is our shared effort for justice.