I’m on jury duty this month, for the first time (lucky, I know). Every time I try to complain about the unbelievable inefficiency of it all, all I hear is, “What do you expect? It’s jury duty. It’s supposed to be that way.”
But it doesn’t have to be. As I’ve always said, if stuff happening as it should is your top priority, then New Orleans isn’t the place for you. But this is absurd because of the incredible disrespect it shows for people’s time.
In case you’ve never had jury duty or it’s been awhile, here’s how it works: You show up at the appointed time of 8:30. Around 10:30 or 11, they announce that judge X is ready for a pool, and they call 25-50 names to go up. If Judge X really isn’t ready (which I’ve seen happen), or if Judge X realizes that this isn’t a jury case (which I’ve seen happen), then you come back down and resume waiting. If Judge X is ready, then you go in and actually do something–answer questions from incompetent and ignorant ADAs or public defenders (lord help me if I ever need one of them) who are basically just kissing your ass so you’ll like them and vote their way. If they’d read the questionnaire you so carefully filled out, then they wouldn’t really need to ask you anything, but they haven’t. If you’re picked for the jury, then you’re stuck for the day and perhaps the night. If you’re not, you go back down and wait some more until they decide to let you go home. When I initially came in, they told me I’d know by noonish if I would be on a jury, but that was a lie. So now I’m having to ask for special permission to get out in time to teach my 1:15 class. Most people don’t go home til 3:30 or 4.
Here’s my main beef: Why are the potential jurors–the only people in this process who aren’t paid–forced to work around everyone else’s schedule? Can’t they ask what would be a good time for ME to come in? And why the hell do they tell us to come in at 8:30 when the know damn well they won’t be ready for at least 2 hours after that? If the judges have to get “ready” for the jurors, then they should have done that last night, not when 150 kind souls are down there waiting. The disrespect is unfathomable.
I’ll say this–the people you meet are generally lovely, as one would expect from New Orleanians. Although everyone is frustrated with the operation, they don’t take it out on each other or the staff who read the names and check us in/out. I’ve had some nice conversations with a great cr0ss-section of people, which makes me that much more angry with the judges who abuse them.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I make a salary, and even if I have to cancel class for a trial, I won’t be fired over this. But my neighbor Donald is there with me, and he makes his living doing odd jobs in our neighborhood. What the hell is he supposed to do? This is stealing from him, all because they can’t just have him come in when they’ll need him. But he’s still there, in good spirits, holding court (so to speak). He’s too good for them, and so are most of the other people I’ve encountered.
Why not put us on call, and say that we have to report within, say, an hour of their calling us? Why not give us the option of coming in at night? Why not be prepared for us when they tell us to show up, so they can run us through a series of interviews back to back? Why not do what most places do and have us call an automated number to find out if we need to report? Anything would be a better system. Hell, I’d rather have just taken one whole week off to do it than this drawn-out, williteverend shit.
This much I know: I finally know how to vote for judges. I’ve always felt weird voting for judges because I don’t know who’d be good and who wouldn’t. Now I do. I’m voting against every single one of these sitting judges, and I’m voting for any candidate who can realistically promise to overhaul the jury system and show a little more respect for the good people of the city.
The judges are the only ones there with any power, so this system is their responsibility. And they all suck.