Late last year I was notified that early in 2010 I was to hold myself available for two months for jury duty at the federal courthouse in Austin. Every Friday evening in January and February I had to check with the court clerk to see if my panel were required to report the next week. We were called only once, and on a chilly Monday morning about 30 of us gathered on the steps of the courthouse on 8th street and waited to be let in. (Security was tight. If you have business at Austin’s federal courthouse, leave your Swiss army knife at home.)
For two hours we prospective jurors sat around long tables in a large room drinking coffee and watching videos about jury service while the clerk of the court thumbed through our paperwork... and then it was over. There had been a mistrial. We were dismissed for the week and reminded to check in again next Friday. (It seemed to me that a mistrial would free up a courtroom or that they’d need new jurors for a fresh start, but it doesn't work that way.)
While we were waiting the clerk said that none of us was likely to sit on a trial, and I wondered how she could predict that until it occurred to me that the court’s docket is probably published online and that I could read it myself and assess my likelihood of seeing the inside of a courtroom. Sure enough, the calendar is posted. In January and February only indictments and hearings on motions were scheduled. During my term no proceeding was planned that needed a jury (I know which those are from watching The People’s Court).
So my duty was discharged while I drank coffee and read a library book (I brought Our Undemocratic Constitution by Sanford Levinson), for which I was paid $40 per diem and $9 mileage. But they also serve who only stand and wait.
Here are some books about juries on the shelves of your Austin Public Library:
The Runaway Jury, John Grisham
American Juries: The Verdict, Neil Vidmar
A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty,
Scott E. Sundby
In the Hands of the People: The Trial Jury's Origins, Triumphs, Troubles, and Future in American Democracy, William L. Dwyer
Race in the Jury Box: Affirmative Action in Jury Selection,
Juror Number Eleven, Terry Devane