Several weeks ago I received the dreaded notice in the mail: I had to appear in County Court at a given time on a given date to serve as a Petit Juror. Ugh, I had a flashback to a similar summons several years ago when I spent a very long day at the County Courthouse. I was in a group of about 80 or 90 prospective jurors being interviewed for a murder trial. The selection process went on all day and finally they agreed on a jury and the rest of us were led out of the courthouse through a back entrance since it was so late that the courthouse was already locked.
It was a long day, but interesting, too. I had expected it to be a stern, unfriendly place. But everyone that worked there was super nice. From the lady at the door who smiled and said "Good Morning" to the judges and bailiffs, the entire courthouse staff went out of their way to make it a pleasant experience. They were proud to tell us that because Bexar County has such a high turnout rate for jury duty that other counties had sent observers to understand their methods.
Still, when the notice came this time I wasn't excited. The day arrived and I presented myself as instructed. The welcoming judge was the same judge from the murder trial. His opening remarks were lighthearted with a few jokes and some personal information about his judicial background and how he had also served as a juror. One time was when he was first running for judge and he felt it helped him to relate to the process. Another time he had to ask to be excused because he was actually presiding over a case for trial that day! Several times during his speech he thanked us for our willingness to serve and spoke of the contribution of citizens to the judicial process.
I spent most of the morning sitting and waiting. Around 11 a.m. I was called, number 9 in a group of about 30. After the bailiff organized us he had us ride up the elevator in groups to meet on the fourth floor of the courthouse. After we got up there he told us that we were going to have a lunch break until 1:30 and then began to describe the places around the courthouse for eating lunch. I wasn't really feeling good, still feeling the effects the upper respiratory infection, and just wanted to go home. But it was lunch time what could I do. I didn't want to eat in the crowded courthouse cafeteria, so I headed out with the group.
My first thought was that I did not have a camera, how can that be, and I didn't even want to waste time with the phone camera. But here I was with history all around me. My consolation was that it was already very hot, I was wearing a suit, and didn't feel good. As I was looking around deciding where to eat a lady in front of me who had been chatting with two other ladies just randomly turned around and asked if I wanted to join them. Why not! I fell in step with them and we headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant.
I had worked downtown in this same area for many years, so I knew the restaurant. How nice to visit a place that I had eaten in before. But the nice treat was having a lunch with three strangers! I had flashbacks to my two trips to New England and sharing meals with the people on the trip; I made sure that I sat with a different group for each meal, as much as possible. I like to do this whenever I eat several meals with the same group of people; it is a nice way to have variety and to get to know people.
The lady that invited me was about my age, maybe a little older. She was outgoing and level headed, I found myself wishing that I worked with her since she was enjoyable company. There was a young lady, probably about my daughter's age. She had small children and worked in the accounting profession. The other lady was probably in her early forties and had four children raging in age from 4 to 16; she worked in the main office of a local school district. The three ladies were all Hispanic. We lived in different areas, but found that we had common ties. It was a pleasant lunch. We discussed neighborhoods, children, jobs, and jury duty. How strange, I thought, that we were total strangers brought together by a summons.
After lunch our group assembled as instructed. So did the other groups of prospective jurors. They were led into their respective courtrooms, but there was no sign of our bailiff. I told my lunch companions that maybe the prospective case participants had decided to settle out of court and we all laughed and crossed our fingers. We waited and waited, the hallway was hushed. Almost an hour later our bailiff appeared from within one of the court rooms. He called us together and apologized for the delay. He then told us to wait, he would be back with our excuses. Ah yes, I am right I thought. Several minutes later he reappeared with the excuses and a young, nice looking African American man. The bailiff apologized again and introduced the young man as the presiding judge and that he wanted to speak to us before we were dismissed.
The Judge then told us that the good news was that the trial was being postponed due to some new facts that had been revealed that morning. Both parties had agreed that it was in their best interests to do so. He then told us the bad news was that our jury service was over and we were being sent home. A chorus of "Awwww" went up, as expected. There was laughter, but the Judge had more to say. In a short speech, he also thanked us for our participation and our patience. Although I was glad to be going home (to crash on my sofa) I felt appreciated and that I had done my part to be a good citizen.
My lunch companions and I walked out of the courthouse and said goodbye as we approached each of our parking spots. I drove home, ready for that nap, but feeling oddly in touch with life. I had been surrounded by total strangers in the jury room, eaten lunch with ladies that I had just met, and yet felt very connected to the process of the court system. I honestly felt a renewed appreciation for our justice system. The judges appreciation of our presence was sincere, so was their dedication to their jobs. I know that decisions are made within the court system that sometimes seem flawed, but have to think that the process of the law is efficient. Our laws are complicated and complex, yet they all seem to fit together to protect our freedom and the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.