Monday, September 15, 2003

The cost of civic duty

For the first time in my life (which is shocking considering how old I am) I had to report for jury duty today. The process is so apallingly inefficient that I was astonished despite the fact that I expected it to be apallingly inefficient.

I had to show up at the courthouse at 8 AM. We finally got through the preliminaries (sign in, watch the orientation videos, get the orientation pep talk from a judge) by 10 AM. I was among the first group of jurors called. 100 of us (about half the total pool) were sent down two floors, which took about half an hour because some of the elevators weren't working and there were no stairs. (The only stairs were emergency exit stairs, and once you're in the stairwell you can't get back into the building, presumably for security reasons.)

Finally, by 11:00 or so all 100 of us were inside the courtroom and learned why so many of us had been called down for this particular case: it was expected to last four weeks. For the third time that day the judge went down the list of jurors in order and asked each one if there was a reason why they couldn't serve on a trial that long. Most people, myself included, said that their employers wouldn't pay their salaries for that long a period of time, and were promptly sent back up to the jury room.

By the time I got back (after another long wait for the elevator) it was nearly lunch time, and because of the way the timing worked out, the normal 90 minute lunch break was extended to nearly two hours. Because I had so much time I was actually able to drive home for lunch!

I got back to the court house at about 1:30, found a quiet corner in the jury room and started reading. About twenty minutes later it was announced that we were no longer needed and we could all go home. Time was I would have had to go through this for ten days. As it stands, because I did not get empaneled on a jury my service is complete for a year.

Still, I and nearly two hundred other people more or less wasted an entire day. And this was a relatively small courthouse. I don't know if anyone has ever bothered to figure out what the overall cost to society is of having so many people twiddling their thumbs waiting for a judge or an elevator or whatever we were waiting for, but it must be a staggering sum.

There has to be a better way (notwithstanding that by comparison to the way things used to be this is a better way). And I'm afraid that if we don't find it our legal system will collapse under its own weight.

No comments: