No Work, No Pay, No Excuse - Jury Duty and a Sole Proprietor
Where to park, how to get out of it, and other Jury duty need-to-knows at Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas
When I was ordered to appear for Jury Duty on Monday afternoon at 1, I didn't think much about it. I'd go in for the afternoon; I wouldn't get picked; it would be fine. Or I'd get picked, I'd explain that if I can't bill, I don't get paid, and they'd let me off. Easy.
In Austin, anyway, that's not how it works. Here are the ten things I learned during my five days in court at the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse.
- You can park in a metered spot. Living on the legal edge, I opted for a three-hour spot. Others paid outlandish garage rates to avoid possible tickets (prudent). We found out upon arrival if we got a ticket for an expired meter, it would be forgiven by the court. SCORE! (Once you get chosen, you get a placard for your car that lets you park in any of six or so blocks of metered spots - it's not easy, but it is free.)
- You cannot manipulate your number in the jury pool by holding back before registering or taking your time checking in. The numbering is random. People in front of me in line had numbers in the 40s. The woman right before me was #1. I was #10.
- Being quiet won't keep you from getting picked. Neither will proactively answering questions. Post-selection, several of my fellow jurors mentioned purposely keeping quiet so as to be overlooked. Didn't work. I had to answer questions. Didn't work either. Bringing the crazy or insisting you have to use the bathroom during the process may get you out, but it will not endear you to ANYONE in the courthouse. The karma may not be worth it.
- Being an independent contractor, a sole proprietor, or anyone whose income depends on working is not 'financial hardship' enough. Unless you will lose your house or utilities, you're considered eligible.
- The lawyers will tell you it's an honor to be chosen. For the first time (but likely not the last), you won't believe them.
- There is a wide variety of bathroom facilities, from palatial to prison-like. It's worth taking a mid-morning break to scope out the facilities. If you need the women's room, there's going to be a line anyway - you might as well climb a few stairs.
- Your judge is incredibly important to your experience; if you get Judge Wong, you're very, very lucky. Kind and appreciative, he runs a tight ship and is generous with the breakfast treats. He made serving in his courtroom a pleasure.
- Court shows may be making lawyers' jobs harder. Among these jurors, anyway, there was very little evidence that lawyerly dramatics like demonizing or canonizing any of the parties involved made any difference whatsoever. These 12 saw through the inflammatory statements (and photos) to keep focus on the facts that were relevant, and look past the ones that were simply salacious.
- Jury duty is a duty. And an honor. It's a hardship - no doubt. None of us have lives that can accommodate multiple days removed from our families, work and routines without disruption. But while you serve, you have the opportunity to live with a sense of community - the absence of which many of us feel acutely in our everyday lives. For one week, the twelve of us came together, worked toward a common goal, learned to listen, learned to compromise. We could probably use a little more of all of that in daily life.
- At the end of the trial, you'll receive a certificate recognizing you for your "contribution to the administration of justice." You'll have earned it. And you'll be proud of it.
At the beginning of the week, I was 10% excited about being chosen and 90% irritated. It was a bad week for the family, and a complicated week to be out. But I walked away with my faith in people affirmed. Universally, our jury was made up of smart, thoughtful, responsible folks who took this duty seriously.
At the end of the week, I'm proud of the work we did together. I'm thankful for an experience that let me learn more about our judicial system, see parts of my city I'd never seen before and meet people I might never have met. And while I can't tell you how to get out of it, I can tell you that, for me, the experience was worth the missed pay. (Although it helps that I don't have to serve for the next two years.)