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Jury duty summons serves as an education

When the initial summons arrived, there was a feeling of dread. I dutifully filed for a postponement and subsequently forgot about the possibility of a life disruption. However, the court system had not forgotten about me and I was called for jury duty in January.

The summons instructs you to dress appropriately and report at the old courthouse at 9 a.m. Being a novice, I parked right across the street from the courthouse and the lot nailed me for $7.50 for a few hours' time.

The initial experience of entering the courthouse is not unlike the fun you have when you go through the airport security station, except these guys have it down to a seriously annoying art. Not only do you have to empty your pockets and put all your metal objects in the tray, you also have to take off your belt. Naturally the line doesn't move very fast, as guys at the end are trying to rethread their belt in their pants and guys approaching the conveyor are busy holding up their pants and extracting their belts.

Once through this hurdle you are herded into a giant courtroom where everybody is seated in the rear trying to look inconspicuous, or putting all their paraphernalia back in their pockets. You are given a questionnaire and a pen with which to fill it out, but this carries the admonition that you must return the pen because the county is out of money.

Once the paperwork is collected, the judge enters and you all rise. He gives some basic instructions and asks if there is anybody who needs to be excused. Fully half the room is on its collective feet getting in line to talk to the judge. I nervously look around and discover that there are barely enough people left to fill two juries; consequently those of us sitting there are looking at some long odds for being excused.

Virtually everyone who asked to be excused was successful and almost all the folks left in the seats were chosen for our civic duty. A foreperson and assistant foreperson were selected, and juries A and B were led down to their respective rooms to elect a secretary and meet with an assistant district attorney for some basic instructions and a work schedule.

The schedule is usually two days one week and three days the next, for a four-week period. And you get paid $40 a day if your employer isn't paying you. Even old retired guys get paid, although we still get our retirement pay.

Your job as a juror is simply to see if the case against the defendant is sufficient to give you reasonable cause to believe. If so, you indict the individual and let the assistant district attorney take it to court. I now know the field sobriety tests administered to a suspicious driver and I also know that virtually all policemen have had the opportunity to observe someone intoxicated at a social event, because the standard questions to the arresting officers were always about their respective ability to recognize an intoxicated person. Sounds like the cops attend some good parties.

An additional perk of jury duty is that you meet some very nice people from varied backgrounds who are all performing a civic duty and enjoying themselves. Our group of 23 all got along very well, and learned a great deal about the law and each other. If asked to serve, do it. It's worthwhile and interesting.

Doug Routt is a former commander of the Air Force fighter squadron once stationed at Niagara Falls.

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