Unlike most people, I actually like
jury duty. I just find the whole process fascinating, and there's always a good story to tell when the trial's over. However, until this week, I had never actually had the chance to sit on a jury and deliberate. I came close, in 1996, when I was seated on the panel in a drug entrapment case in New York City. It was really cool, but after sitting through three days of arguments, I was sent home because I was only an alternate. I was totally bummed. So much, in fact, that I called the courthouse the next day to find out what the verdict was (innocent, just as I would have voted).
Three years ago, I was called to Foxborough for jury duty on a random Monday in August and hoped for the best, but, well, it was a random Monday in August, so there were no cases to try and I was sent home. When I received my summons to appear this week in Woburn, I anticipated the same fate. I even sent an email to coworkers telling them that I'd be back on Tuesday. After all, what could possibly be going on in Woburn?
Well, unbeknownst to me, Woburn is now the home of the county's Superior Court
, and there are plenty of cases to be tried there, most lasting multiple days. "Luck" was on my side, and when I checked in Monday morning, I was randomly assigned the number one, so I was almost assured of being seated on some
case. And by 10 a.m., there I was, seated on the jury of a civil case. More on that later, though.
Surprisingly enough, having jury duty in Woburn is actually quite cool, but it's not without its amusements. For instance, as nice and high tech as the new courthouse building is, they still show that awful 1970s-era orientation film with the fake judge and lawyers, including the one who talks with his hands on his lapels as if to signify that what he's saying is so very important
. Then, when the judge told us today that he was recording his instructions for us so we could play it back later, he did so on an old cassette recorder. So, while the building and the court itself may be present-day, some aspects of the operations there are still hopelessly stuck in a time warp.
But on the other hand, it was very impressive dealing with the judge and various court officers, all of whom seemed genuinely interested in the process and treated us with kindness and respect, explaining everything as we went along without being condescending. I don't have a bad thing to say about anyone, and I especially appreciated the judge on our case, who spoke with us for about 20 minutes after the verdict was rendered, to answer any questions we had about the whole process (though not about our case specifically).
Alright, so about that case. First, it was a civil case, not a criminal one, so it had nothing to do with guilty or innocent. Rather, there was a dispute we had to settle. It involved two 16-year-old guys (they're now 21), a BB gun, and a pellet that hit one of them in the eye. (Yes, it was hard not to think of A Christmas Story
during the proceedings.) The dispute centered around whose side of the story was more believable: did one guy shoot the other (as the plaintiff said) or did the gun go off while the two were wrestling for it
(as the defendant said)? We heard from three witnesses on both sides, some of whom were non-English speakers and needed a translator.
Both sides had a different version of the events, and that made for an interesting case (despite the fact that some of it moved kinda slowly). Suffice it to say, when we got the case for deliberation, we had plenty to discuss. A lively but thorough three-hour discussion later, we had our verdict: we found in favor of the plaintiff, and awarded him damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and "pain and suffering." I suggested that our foreperson remind the defendant that "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," but actually, the defendant was not in the room when the verdict was read — and of course, that would have been totally inappropriate. (And, it should be noted, the defendant did not shoot the other guy's eye out, but the plaintiff did have residual issues with his sight because of the incident.)
During the orientation on Monday, we were told that in 1774, John Adams said, "Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty." I guess by that measure, you might say that over the past three days, I kept this country alive. Yeah, jury duty's not all bad. You just have to go into it with the right attitude.