Reader Response: Jury Duty: Vol. 6, Issue 26

Etiquetteer was delighted to hear from a few readers aboutthe most recent column:

From a Webmistress: Jury duty is one of those topics that compels me to write. It always, always distresses me when people joke about trying to skip jury duty. I have been called for jury duty more than anyone I know, and have yet actually to be a juror. The closest I ever got was I got seated once, but was thrown off the case right after the young man in leather jacket and chains. The case was too close to my only experience with the legal system, I guess, for the lawyers to think I could be impartial. I got my first summons at the age of 18, for my college dorm address!

But I want to be a juror. I would be a good juror, and pay attention. I think our legal system - flawed though it may be - is an important part of what America the nation is. So each time I go, but now I bring a good thick book with me. And if anyone around me ever speaks of trying to get off, I lecture them with every ounce of indignation I feel. Just because I was born in this country (ancestors on the Mayflower even, as well as much more recent immigrants on my family tree) doesn't mean I take being American lightly. I want to be a juror. And I will, some day, I am sure.

Etiquetteer responds: As one who has served on one civil trial jury and two criminal trial juries (once as foreman), Etiquetteer has served about 40% of the times he’s been called since becoming eligible for jury duty in the early 1980s. Etiquetteer even remembers completing Christmas cards while waiting to be summoned for jury duty one December, and heartily endorses your advice to bring a good thick book with you for the waiting period.


From a medical professional: First, the last thing I would ever want (if I found myself in that situation) is a trial by jury. I mean, to be "judged" by a random collection of 12 (possibly angry men, angry because they are serving on the jury against their will) would never work for me. I don't have that level of faith in my fellow citizen to synthesize a correct conclusion based on complicated presentations of conflicting information. I just could not consider putting the outcome of my trial in their hands.

Secondly, being a self-employed person (as I am) does not exempt one from jury duty. Employees of large corporations have their salaries paid to them for their time out of the office. Unfortunately, there is no one paying me when I am out of the office for any reason, civic responsibilities not being an exception. And as a matter of fact, I have to hire someone to be there to see my patients, at a considerable expense. One or two days of this every few years is fine. But, to be "stuck" on a trial lasting weeks or months would create a great financial hardship. Again financial hardship is not a reason to be excused from your call to duty. Serving under duress would cloud objective thinking and consideration of an evidence stream.

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Jury Duty, the Queen, and Lady Bird, Vol. 6, Issue 23

Etiquetteer has been gravely disappointed in three recent news stories that show how Perfect Propriety is being compromised in the courtroom, ostensibly one of the last places any kind of Dignity is required in public.

Too many Americans consider only their rights and not their duties as citizens. The right to vote, for instance, involves the duty of actually showing up at the polls to vote. Trial by jury is one of the most valuable freedoms we have in the United States. Jury duty, though frequently inconvenient, should therefore be treated respectfully. All of us have heard stories about how sundry citizens have tried to get out of jury duty, but the blatant lying of Massachusetts resident Daniel Ellis left Etiquetteer breathless with indignation. Describing himself as a homophobe, a racist, and a habitual liar, Mr. Ellis overplayed his hand. ," Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary Nickerson was quoted in the preliminary transcript saying he had "never confronted such a brazen situation of an individual attempting to avoid juror service."

Having made it onto a jury, jurors then have a duty actually to pay attention to the trial and deliberate honestly and thoughtfully with fellow jurors. Using a court trial as a chance to catch up on your iPod listening is shocking. Cloaking this bad behavior with religious headgear comes as close to heresy as Etiquetteer can imagine. But this is exactly what an unnamed Muslim woman did while serving on a jury in Blackfriars Central Court, London. Under cover of her hijab, this Reluctant Juror tuned out the trial and tuned in the Music of Her Choice. Undone by the sound leaking out (one would think she’d have thought of that), she has now been cited for contempt of court and comes to a trial of her own on July 23.

Etiquetteer hopes that both of these jury shirkers get clapped in jail.

As if these instances didn’t compromise Perfect Propriety enough, comes now the story of Hamilton County (Ohio) Municipal Court Judge Ted Berry. When a hearty F-bomb was dropped on him by a convicted pothead sentenced to 30 days, Judge Berry unfortunately responded in kind. While sympathizing with the judge, who was clearly provoked, Etiquetteer cannot condone that sort of behavior from one whose manners set the tone for the entire courtroom.

Dear Etiquetteer:

How does one properly ask a crowned head of state to remove his or her crown?

Dear Saucy:

One does not! Off with your head!

Etiquetteer knows (as who could not?) that you refer to the alleged tiff between Elizabeth II and Annie Liebowitz. Thank goodness it was determined that it never occurred and that the docuumentary had been edited out of sequence and that Her Majesty didn’t really behave that way. Etiquetteer was irresistibly reminded of the Queen’s ancestress, Queen Victoria, who once ordered a photographer from the room when he instructed her to "try to look pleasant."

Etiquetteer was saddened to read of the death of Lady Bird Johnson, one of the most dignified and hospitable of First Ladies. Of the many challenges to Perfect Propriety she faced while in Washington, Etiquetteer could not help but recall her interaction with singer Eartha Kitt. Etiquetteer’s mother always said "When you lose your temper, you lose your point." La Kitt could have benefited from that knowledge during one of Lady Bird’s "Women Doers" luncheons at the White House. (How quaint it must have sounded, in those far-off days of the 1960s, that women could do anything. Thank goodness we’ve seen some progress on that front!) Using the luncheon’s topic of "crime in the city" as an opportunity sound off about the Vietnam War, La Kitt angrily suggested that young Americans were smoking pot to keep from getting drafted. During this tirade, Lady Bird successfully suppressed the visceral urge to respond and instead reminded herself "Be calm, be dignified." Indeed, what better reminder for us all?

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