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Jury Duty

For those of you keeping tabs of the hour-by-hour coverage of the Tony Rezko trial, you might be thinking to yourself, "That can't be the way they select a jury for such an important, much-discussed trial."

You'd be partially correct. That's actually the way jury selection goes for all trials.

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I have always wanted to serve on a jury, so when the notice finally arrived in my mailbox, I was hyperexcited. After having seen the process, however, I'm a little saddened. Some things I learned:

1. A lot of people apparently don't know the process of the trial - the fact that there is a defendant and plaintiff, what a civil trial is versus criminal, and what the judge's and jury's role is in the process. Thankfully, when you first show up, Lester Holt, who as far as I know hasn't been a Chicago anchor - nor had a mustache - since about 2000, narrates a video that describes to you the whole process so you will know what's going on.

2. Getting dismissed from a jury for cause doesn't work the way you think it does. You don't give your excuse, the judge accepts it and lets you leave. Instead, you desperately over-explain how you couldn't possibly sit on a jury for two weeks because you have a big meeting in Cleveland that, no, you don't personally have plane tickets for because you were planning to drive but many others were flying in for the meeting that urgently depends on you, the person who has only been with the company for two weeks, and then wait on pins and needles until everyone on your panel of 12 has been questioned and the lawyers go out in the hall to deliberate with the judge and come in and announce the keepers. You suddenly feel as if you're the plaintiff waiting to see if you'll win a large sum of money. You are that nervous. And the truth is, if you are dismissed, you will never, ever know why anyway.

3. There are a lot of sad stories in Cook County, and prospective jurors have to share them in open court. If you don't want to, then you, the judge, the two lawyers for the plaintiff, the two lawyers for the defendant, and the stenographer, who has to schlep her stenographer machine, all can go out in the hall to discuss, but that adds a lot of time to the proceedings. So you will hear stories, as I did, like the one from a man had been in a head-on collision in 1978, having been hit by a car going 80 mph. He spent two years in the hospital with nearly all of his bones broken and still is in pain today. He was dismissed. Then there's the man whose family thought his sister died because of neglect on a hospital's part but didn't sue. He was also dismissed. Another man's son - because if you have adult children or spouses, they delve into their background, too - has a police brutality case pending against the Chicago Police Department. That same man said he'd sat on a jury six years earlier and it was the worst experience of his life because of the fighting among jurors to decide the case. He was chosen anyway.

4. No matter how many books you read that contain trials or how many times you watch Law & Order, there's no telling why the people are chosen for the jury. Our case involved a woman suing a medical school that gave out DOs rather than MDs. Her complaint was against the school, as she had gone to the health clinic there and been adjusted incorrectly, causing her pain and suffering. On the first panel was a woman who had two daughters who were nurses, and when questioned by the defendant's lawyer, she said that even though they went through the same medical training and were licensed the same, she thought a DO had lesser standing than an MD. She was chosen for the jury.

5. You're sworn in first thing when you get into the courtroom, so you're under oath every time you answer a question. So when the lawyer says, "There is no question that this woman has suffered and has experienced pain, and she has every right to your sympathy, but you will need to decide this case with your head, not your heart. Will you be able to rule against her if you don't think she makes her case in regards to the letter of the law, even if you find the law to be unfair?" you have to answer honestly. And then you feel as if the bailiff will throw you in jail because the follow-up is, "It's not up to the jury or the judge or the lawyers to make the law, we have to follow it, so you'd go against the law if you think the law is unfair?" What can I say? I have a strong sense of fair play that I can't turn off, but thankfully, I think that's what got me out of sitting on that jury.

*

As I said, I'm a dork who was excited to be called for jury duty, but after sitting through a day of jury selection, I'm rethinking that. True, as the judge said at the beginning of the week, your country only calls on you for two reasons: To fight a war and to serve on a jury, which makes it sound very noble. But one of the questions asked of one of the jurors during my jury selection was if he would hold it against the doctor named in the lawsuit if he wasn't in court every day because he was seeing patients. I wasn't even in the jury box at the time, but I wanted to stand up and scream, "Hell yeah! Why is his time more important than mine?"

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Nikki Golden is a fine citizen who only wants to do the right thing.



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Posted on March 6, 2008


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