Facing rejection: my day in court

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I have a great respect for all things pertaining to jury duty. I obtained it in the Clay County Courthouse nearly 20 years ago while watching a juror doze off during a trial. The man in the defendant’s box at those particular proceedings happened to be responsible for a three-inch scar in my state trooper husband’s scalp, and the fact that Sleepy (maybe Dopey, too) would have a say-so in rendering the verdict — well, it woke me up to the seriousness of jury selection and service. Ever since then, I’ve been a big believer in doing your duty.

So when a summons came in the mail, I made plans to do mine, right beside the Co-Lin employee who was missing her spring break and the roofer whose crew was without its chief. By 8:30 Monday morning, another 77 other potential duty-doers had joined us in the Copiah County Courthouse as well, all sans purses and anything else illegal to tote.

It wasn’t long after arriving and receiving our “juror” name tags that we were told that an hour-long ceremony dedicating the circuit court term to a former judge would begin in 15 minutes. And no, we couldn’t leave the building.

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The National Center for State Courts says the number one complaint citizens have about jury duty is the waiting – waiting for orientation to begin, waiting in the hallway during last-minute motions, waiting to find out who’ll be impaneled. I sensed the sentiment strongly from where I sat in a hard wooden seat with time to notice the courtroom’s Corinthian columns and peeling plaster on a far wall. I spotted a young lawyer sitting out of the way, reading the New York Times bestselling 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse. I could, if Juror No. 46 leaned back far enough, see my car from a southeast window. I wondered again how long this would take.

It didn’t help that the hands on the huge clock behind the judge’s bench didn’t move – may not have moved for years. Being eternally stuck at 8:44 seemed to underscore the reality that we were on their. time. now.

Some two hours after first going through the metal detector, we were again seated and given numbered fans to raise when speaking. The judge issued the usual information, then gave a “no cellphones” talk. This came, curiously enough, just after one of the law clerk’s phones had gone off, expanding all of our musical horizons to include what I can only guess was the latest hip hop hit.

Not long after that the voir dire began, and we learned of another surefire way to rile the judge: move to Terry but keep your voter registration in Hazlehurst. Someone named Virginia dodged duty by answering in the affirmative regarding that very issue, but she was thoroughly chastised in the process. The judge also made his point to a gentleman choosing to cash in on his over-65 status (“seniors sometimes make the best jurors”) and a woman demonstrating her back discomfort (“but we can take as many breaks as you need”).

Undeterred, Juror No. 9, too, attempted an exit when the opportunity arose. “You said anyone who’s 65 can opt out,” she stated her case confidently.

“I believe I said over 65,” the judge corrected her. She apologized in a flutter and quickly sat down. Hours later, she would make the cut.

I, however, was no first-round pick.  Never have been, in spite of a strong desire to do my civic duty and participate in the judicial process. Here’s how it went this time: the prosecuting attorney began naming officers involved in the case, and asked if we knew any of them. I fumbled for my fan.

“Juror No. 5, how do you know ______?”

“My husband is in law enforcement,” I responded as quietly as I could, knowing full well that voicing any such association might be my juror selection/rejection death knell. And with that simple statement, it’s my belief that I was out of the running — out of it faster than the defense lawyers could scribble a note next to my name.

So that’s how I came to be eating a large order of onion rings at Sonic around 1:00 while 12 of my betters were weighing in on the scales of justice. I wanted my day in court, but the court didn’t want me. I wonder if I’ll ever get to serve on a jury.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.