You get that dreaded jury duty notice.
"UGH!" You think.
"Not again!" you despair.
You begin to think of how this jury notice is coming at the wrong time.
It's always the wrong time.
It interrupts your life.
It interrruptes your work.
It interrupts your daily activities.
You must place YOUR life on hold while you are summoned to court.
You will lose money from work for being in court.
You will incur travel expenses just to get to court.
You have to show up on time, every day.
Yet, we do it.
We all do it.
Most of us, anyway.
Why do we appear in court for jury duty?
For two reasons...
First, it's the law.
Second, it's our civic obligation to participate in jury duty.
Let's tackle the law first.
That jury summons has the backing of the entire civil and criminal justice system behind it.
There's a clear threat if you fail to heed your call to jury service.
I wonder if two hundred years ago, they had the same real or implied threat to compel someone to sit on a jury?
I hear all the time "What really happens if I ignore the jury summons?"
"What can the court really do to me?"
"They're not really going to put me in jail if I fail to show up for jury duty are they?"
These are all valid questions.
These are all intelligent questions.
I will tell you that being a lawyer for more than 28 years here in New York, I have never heard of a potential juror being jailed for not showing up for jury duty.
That doesn't mean it couldn't or wouldn't happen, just that I have never heard of it happening.
Can you be fined for not showing up?
That is one of the punishments threatened in the jury summons.
Well, that too is spelled out.
The reality is that jury service is supposed to be voluntary.
However, the court needs to 'encourage' people to participate.
They do that by 'inviting' them to court using a 'jury summons'.
"You are hereby ordered to appear for jury duty on Monday, December 7, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. at the Court House located at 60 Centre Street, in New York City..."
I think they'd get much more of a positive response if instead the court sent out a beautiful hand-engraved invitation.
"The Courts of the State of New York lovingly invite you to participate in an exclusive opportunity to help solve an ongoing problem among the citizens of this great State. Your presence is sought to help decide who is more likely right than wrong. The outcome of this legal dilemma rests on your shoulders. The litigants are counting on you. Please RSVP by Wednesday, December 22 if you can join us..."
I got a good laugh when I reread that.
Imagine the court administration sending out 'jury invitations'!
Do you think anybody would 'voluntarily' show up?
Some. A few.
Nah. Not many, I think.
Most would think it's a joke.
That's because they've been conditioned to expect this demanding summons.
There's that hidden threat of what happens if you don't show up?
You think "It's such a pain! I now have to disrupt my entire life just to come into court and sit as a juror. This is annoying!"
What if, as part of the 'jury invitation' above, you knew that there would be a wonderful buffet for you and all the other jurors each morning just waiting for you?
Would that entice you to show up?
Free food for jurors!
Now that's a thought.
But where would the funding for such a thing come from?
I'll leave that to the court administrators to figure out.
What if you were provided with entertainment while you sat around for hours in central jury?
Maybe there could be musicians.
Maybe a magician could keep you entertained.
Maybe the court could set up card games and even bingo.
Maybe set up a few ping pong tables and billiard tables.
Ah, to dream such thoughts...
The likelihood of those things ever happening are zero.
It's really a shame.
It could happen if the court administration decided to be creative.
It could happen if we set a precedent for the rest of the country.
If we make it interesting for members of the community and 'encourage' them to show up, willingly and in droves, then we'd have no need to 'threaten' jurors with all sorts of penalties to show up for jury duty.
Since I do not control the jury selection process, let's just keep this to ourselves as merely creative thinking.
Let's talk about our civic duty for a moment...
Our civil justice system relies on members of our community to participate.
That's why we have jury trials.
The injured victim is suing someone who was careless.
Maybe it was a careless doctor.
Maybe it was a careless driver.
Maybe it was a careless land owner.
There's a clear dispute.
One side says the other was careless and caused her harm.
The other side says "No I didn't."
Who's telling the truth?
Who's shading the truth?
Since we live in a civil society, we have a civil justice system designed to help litigants resolve their disputes.
If we didn't, we'd have mayhem.
We'd have vigilante justice.
People would take matters into their own hands.
Violence would likely occur.
An eye for an eye would roar back into our everyday thinking.
That biblical mentality went out the door hundreds of years ago.
Now, we handle our disputes civilly.
While it is true that you could have your trial decided by a Judge, the majority of civil lawsuits in New York are resolved by jury trial.
Many injured victims and their attorneys prefer to have six members of the community sit in judgment to decide whether they are more likely right than wrong that what she is claiming is true.
You see, a jury does not have to sit for weeks tyring to make 100% sure that what we are claiming is true.
Instead, we only have to show that we are slightly more likely right than wrong in order to justify a verdict in our favor.
The law has a fancy legal term for that.
It's called the 'preponderance of evidence'.
We actually only have to tip the scales in the slightest amount in our favor to have a jury side with us.
That's in a civil case.
A case involving medical malpractice.
A case involving a car accident.
A case involving wrongful death.
It's different for a criminal case.
Since I don't handle criminal cases, I'll leave that discussion for prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys.
But, I'll just touch upon it.
In a criminal case, a prosecutor must show 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that the person accused is responsible for doing what he did.
That's a very different requirement compared to what happens in a civil trial.
Six people of the community are called to decide who's right and who's wrong.
Six people from all walks of life.
Blue collar workers.
People with disabilities.
People from every type of background and ethnicity.
It is our civic duty to participate in jury selection.
We may not enjoy being away from our families.
We may not enjoy being away from our work.
We may not enjoy being torn away from our normal daily activities.
But our fellow citizens need our help.
They can't resolve their dispute.
A dispute that has been going on for 2-3 years.
You are being called to help these fellow neighbors solve their legal dilemma.
You, along with five other chosen jurors will be able to do that.
You'll listen to the testimony.
You'll listen to the witnesses.
You'll listen to the medical experts.
You'll see the trial exhibits.
You'll hear the arguments made by each attorney.
You'll decide which witnesses are believable.
You'll figure out which ones are not.
You'll listen to the judge explain the law.
You'll get to know the other jurors sitting on your jury.
You'll be able to chat with them every morning.
Every courtroom break.
Every lunch break.
But you won't be able to talk about this case until the very end.
So, you'll chat with them about everything else.
You'll get to know who they are.
Where they're from.
What they do to earn a living.
At the end of the trial, after hearing the attorneys give closing remarks and after hearing the judge explain the law, you'll get to decide.
After days of listening to testimony.
Maybe after weeks of listening to testimony.
Now you get to decide.
You get to answer specific questions in order to reach your verdict.
"Was the defendant negligent?"
"Did Doctor Jones violate the basic standards of medical care?"
Questions like these lead you down the path of deciding who, if anyone, is responsible for this person's injuries.
If you find that the defendant, the person or company being sued is responsible, then you'll also have to come to a decision about how much money the injured victim is to receive as compensation for all of her harms, losses and damages.