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Jury Duty: As It Happened

Back in April this year, I got a letter in the mail from the Office of the Sheriff for NSW. For a minute there I thought this had to be a fake, but who fakes a letter in the year 2017? For that matter in the year 2017, how do we have a sheriff? Isn’t that one of those anachronisms that disappeared somewhere in the 19th century? But no, here was a real letter…

Opening it up, I discovered I’d been put on the shortlist for jury duty this year.

Ah.

I’m reasonably civic minded, and jury duty has certainly been something I’d previously been keen to see how it worked. Seeing the inner workings of the justice system was always something of interest, and I’d have been happy to do so under any ordinary circumstances… but the 12 month period to come was looking like a busy one, and I’m not sure I would be able to juggle everything. At that point it was just a notification, so it would be fine.

Three days later I got another letter, informing me I had been selected, and would be required at the Supreme Court shortly. So much for that theory.

It just happened to be that the summons date was when I was going to be out of town on a mini-holiday – and I’d only booked it literally the day that I had received the summons, so I went online and applied to be excused on that basis with some mixed feelings. I thought maybe that was that for the year, that I’d be put back in the process and who knew if I would get chosen again.

Of course, just when you most don’t want it, the universe conspires against you. It’s like getting randomly selected at the airport, the days when you just most don’t need the delay are the days that you get chosen and look most uncomfortable.

So come July, I received another notice. And… it happened to clash with a day that I was going to be out of the state again (thank you NSW for the August bank holiday), and I was once more excused prior to the day.

You know what’s coming next right?

Yeah, so exactly a month later – exactly the period when the excusal expires – I receive another summons for September. This time, it said a 12 week trial, which is a shock to receive in itself. I’m not even sure how you’d have 12 weeks of debate on an event and then be asked to make a decision – it’d be an overwhelming amount surely.

You also know from the fact that I didn’t post this in September that I got out of it. So you see… once more I had a trip booked – internationally this time – but two weeks after the summon date, so I while I showed up, I was dismissed before the day even started and had a sense of _surely_, this time, it was done.

And then, come October, I got another summons. This was getting ridiculous. Also I had _another_ trip booked (there’s a reason Qantas attendants now welcome me by name), this time three weeks after the date, so I knew I just needed to show up and tick my name off again, present my itinerary and would be just fine.

I stroll in to the court house confident that I would get excused.

It’s interesting to watch the court in action – just even arriving, there’s a small army of people directing and running the order of the day. They’re known as the Sheriff’s officers. I’m half expecting them to be carrying truncheons.

The sheriff’s officers direct me to sit in a particular area, where the immediate selection and filtering takes place. I’d been here before, the last time I got excused, so I know where to go like a seasoned pro.

I get called, and go up to the counter to show my itinerary and explain why I can’t attend a 6 week trial. The friendly officer behind the counter smiles, checks the date on the itinerary, and offers me a two week trial instead. She says I might get lucky with just a three day trial while I stand there somewhat nonplussed.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

I’m no longer a named person here, apparently – I’m a number. Juror number 24* on jury panel number 123* is how I’m going to be called up. I look around at the room, and join the hundred or so people seated in the waiting area, facing a few TV screens showing the 24 hour news channels. Well, if nothing else I’ll be well informed by the end of the day.

It’s the same-sex marriage survey result (yes! Woo marriage equality!), followed by the Socceroos (yes! Woo World Cup 2018 here we come!), followed by the coup in Zimbabwe. 2017 has been a hell of a year.

The news is interrupted by our guide for the day, John. John’s got an authoritative voice, and I wonder if he’s the Sheriff we’ve been waiting for (spoiler alert: no). He starts with what I call the dance of the flight attendant – the emergency exits are here, here and here, the toilets are here, oxygen masks will drop from the… I’m already losing focus. This isn’t going to be good if it goes like this.

We get to see a half hour video explaining the process. NSW still maintains the tradition of bewigged judges and barristers representing the Crown and the defendant, it would seem, and there’s a sense of formality that you’d expect, but I’m not sure I could get used to the idea of the public prosecutor being called “Mr. Crown” without giggling a little.

The video emphasises that it’s not like you see on TV, especially the American shows. There goes my plan to watch Suits or 12 Angry Men and draw ideas on how this process is going to run.

My mind goes off on a tangent to try to think of any Australian based shows that actually show the jury process; hell, are there even many American shows that have the jury as more than 12 extras or maybe with one speaking role for the foreman? Not really. It’s the part of the process that it would seem people are actually most likely to be participating in, but naturally the drama of TV is not exactly going to be played out with someone sitting in the jury selection room watching ABC News 24 for a couple of hours.

The video ends with not much fanfare, and the TV resumes. Everyone looks around a little unsure as to what we’re allowed to do, and I join the couple of people who start moving around to more comfortable spots than where we started.

This is pretty weird in a way – these are about a hundred or hundred and fifty strangers that I’ve not ever met, seen or interacted with before, and we’re in a room with little direction given. What does one do in the circumstances?

I take my iPad to the tables and begin to document the process. I wish I’d brought my charger like last time; I wish I’d brought my laptop like last time, thinking to get stuff done. I definitely question why I didn’t bring that along this time around, being so brazenly confident this time that I would be fine.

The sound mutes on the TV; the tension in the room suddenly spikes. An officer comes forward and starts to call some numbers. People hesitantly get up – it’s real, they’re actually getting selected. They get assigned an officer to take them upstairs to the court room.

I’m not called up in the first round. I have no idea how long this process takes, but I know at this point I’ve got about 5 or 6 hours to go before I’m going to find out more.

I muck around a bit more on the phone and on the iPad. I’m really not sure what to do and when I’m going to get called up, so I’m not committing to anything much.

An auction for a Leonard Da Vinci’s painting comes on the news, watching live. The action starts somewhere in the tens of millions, and then… wow crap it charges right through the hundred million mark. Hundred and ten, twenty, thirty, fifty… it slows at the 200 milllion mark. That’s an obscene amount of money, surely? It’s slow now, it’s not screaming up, but it’s incrementally climbing. There’s two bidders left… wait, 210 million, 215 million, are these people serious? It’s now at 260 million and it seems to pause… but then it advances 2 million dollars at a time. That’s a sum of money that would make me a very satisfied person, and it’s being used as a bidding increment between two people. And it’s advanced… step by step… to 270 million… and then a bid to 280 million. Surely this is stupid money? Who the hell has that much to throw around? 282? 284? And without warning it jumps to 300 million dollars. Someone is certainly going to be happy to be receiving this sum, and someone has paid a princely sum for a 500, 600 year old painting of a person that you’d never had heard of before or since. It sure feels like the money was bandied about just because it could be than it would be for any actual.

At 330 million, I think I stopped believing this was real money that people were bidding. Maybe they’re talking, like, frequent flyer points or something. This feels like the first time I went to bid for a house at auction and go thoroughly trashed at my third bid by someone who dropped 10% of the bid above me.

When the hammer for this painting drops at 400 million, we’re in disbelief. The people of the jury room finally have something to say to each other, and it’s interrupted by another round of call-ups. This time though we can see that they’re calling people differently – they seat them all, rather than take them to the court directly. The court officer is explaining that while they’ve been empaneled, the trial won’t start today, so they’re free to go today, but would need to be back tomorrow at 9:30.

I kinda wish I’d have had that – best of both worlds, get to go home early but go in with some certainty that tomorrow would be in the court and go through that process. The pending decision for me still leaves everything unsettled.

I jot down these notes, and find some reading to do with my MBA study. Having a library like atmosphere certainly helps with being productive, and if anything I’m the noisiest, clacking away at my mini-keyboard on my iPad, but the productivity feels solid and I’m in the zone with headphones in. And then I see everyone looking up, and realise there’s another announcement happening.

“… so for everyone here, we are done with the trials for the day, and you’re free to go home.”

Wait, what?

Really?

That happens?

That’s it?

I don’t need to come back?

I literally pump my fist like I’ve scored a goal or won a game. After four call ups, repeated tension about the impact, all that anguish about being involved in a court case and deciding fates, the excitement of being inside the judicial process, and… it’s done with 4 hours or so of sitting in a library like environment? I’m relieved, and at the same time slightly disappointed I didn’t even get to go in the court.

I pick up my iPad and drop the jury number card off. I’m out of there. I wish I hadn’t left my stuff at work, because right now I’ve got no option but to head back there to pick it up, and that means I’m not going to escape my obligations there. I sigh slightly as I plod towards work.

*yeah I gotta change the actual for the sake of the judicial process.

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