On Monday, I reported to the Fulton County Justice Center Tower for my first jury duty summons. I was pretty nervous about the logistics of it. As with most cities, downtown Atlanta is a maze of congested, one-way streets, with limited and expensive parking. Thankfully, there is a designated lot at Turner Field that has free parking for jurors with shuttle service to the justice center. The lot is only about 3 miles from my apartment, but I was unsure about traffic and nervous about missing a useful shuttle and being late, so I left at 7:00, an hour early. Of course I didn’t sleep well the night before, because I knew my alarm would be going off early. I hate that.

I arrived at the lot about about 7:15, and there was a shuttle waiting right there, so I walked in the front door of the justice center at 7:25, 5 minutes before they even started filtering people through security. But, I was far from alone, and I would always rather be early than late, especially for something as official and scary as a jury summons. I was glad I had done the shuttle thing, because it was very reassuring to be dropped at exactly the right place with plenty of other people doing the same thing I was. There was really good signage and direction, and throughout the day they kept us well-informed with announcements. I never felt confused or overwhelmed as I kind of expected to, which was a pleasant surprise.

Once we all made our way up to the 7th floor, we were checked in at different windows based on our summons and found seats in a big, open, room. I was prepared with 3 magazines and a novel! At about 10:30, after I’d gotten through 2.25 magazines, I was called with a group of 50 to report to a courtroom. I never even started my novel! From there, they spent a little bit of time explaining the case to us and then asking questions to filter out jurors who a) had a legitimate hardship that would have prevented them from serving or b) had some kind of personal or professional connection to the case or any involved parties. This particular case was scheduled to go all week; my summons for one day or one trial, so if I had been chosen I would have had to show up every day! I was number 42 of 50, and I breathed a sigh of relief when they finished interviewing the first 30 potential jurors and announced they had interviewed enough. I never even got asked any questions, so by having reported for the day my duty was fulfilled.

It was interesting thinking about the hardship process, which the judge decides. (The lawyers get to decide who is stricken based on other biases.) There were, of course, several moms who had childcare obligations, and others who were primary wage-earners for their families, but there were also some more unique ones like a man who was scheduled to take the LSAT on Friday and a guy who had an appointment for a kidney biopsy scheduled. Yikes! I was surprised at a couple of the jurors chosen–some because they had a particular hardship that I thought would have qualified, and others because they seemed to me to have a bias on one side or the other of the case. But maybe as long as they are balanced out by someone with the opposite bias that is desirable for the attorneys! I guess that’s why they leave those decisions to the people with law degrees. I didn’t even try to claim a hardship, because while it would have been annoying and an inconvenience to spend my week there, I had no real reasons keeping me from it.

Though the day as admittedly pretty mind-numbingly boring, I am interested to have seen the process and had some of the intrigue demystified. They showed us an orientation video first thing in the morning when we were all in the big room that had Justices Day-O’Connor and Alito and a couple of no-name jurors talking about their experiences. One juror in the video, a black lady, pointed out that her mother wouldn’t have had the right to serve as a juror, so she chose to view it as an honor and a privilege rather than an annoyance. I tried to keep that statement in the back of my mind all day, even though I didn’t feel that way 100%. Because it’s true: not too many years ago even I, as a woman, wouldn’t have been called to serve. And all of the staff I encountered throughout the day were very pleasant and understanding of the fact that most of us didn’t exactly want to be there. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still glad to have my week back under my own control!

Have you had to report for jury duty before? What was your experience like?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman