TIME SUCK? INCONVENIENT? YES AND YES—BUT DOING JURY DUTY ALSO TURNED OUT TO BE A FASCINATING WAY TO CHANGE GEARS.
“Happy New Year!” my husband joked as he handed me my jury duty summons. Unlike most people, I was actually excited to be called. I’m afraid I’m one of those obedient citizens you might spot wearing the “I Voted Today!” sticker.
My enthusiasm, however, was dampened by reality. I’m used to working from home as a freelance journalist, so having to drive downtown every day and go through metal detectors in a drab 1960s building felt like an imposition. We were offered a no-frills décor, benches guaranteed to give you a backache, and mandatory cell phone shut downs. I was almost immediately brought into a voir dire—the process during which the jury pool is asked questions and the lawyers decide who might be a good fit. It felt endless: We had a pool of 85 for 12 spots, plus alternates.
I had the strange sensation I was dreaming. One lawyer looked exactly like Mindy Kaling; another was a dead ringer for Nicholas Cage. The judge resembled my old boss, only wearing a black, curly wig. But being selected for the jury on a gang-related, attempted murder case turned out to be one of the most fascinating experiences I’ve ever had. I learned so much about Los Angeles’ communities, politics, and culture.
Sure, it can be a frustrating limbo, because there’s so much uncertainty in your schedule—one never knows what time you’ll be starting or done, or how long the case will take. I could feel my assignments piling up at home. Many of my fellow jurors brought laptops and frantically tried to keep up during our breaks, but instead, I decided to pull a Frozen and let it go. I wanted to embrace where I was, instead of trying to be where I was not.
Here’s how I made the most of jury duty:
SNUCK IN EXERCISE.
Since I couldn’t get to the gym, I took the stairs to the courtroom: 11 flights (432 stairs) at least once or twice a day. I took walks in Grand Park, too, which has inspirational sayings embedded in the sidewalks, mileage markers, and even tai chi classes.
GOT TO KNOW THE WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL.
Jurors park in the underground lot for free there, so one day I popped upstairs for a tour of the iconic venue and the 1-acre urban garden that’s hidden on one level.
ENJOYED FREE LECTURES.
Okay, the talks by weapons experts and specialists in gang culture were testimony, but still, they were so interesting! It was like a TED Talk for delinquents. How often do I get to hear from one of the world’s preeminent experts in witness identification?
EXPLORED DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES.
The court shuts down daily from 12 to 1:30, which gave me plenty of time to play. Over the course of the trial, I browsed the historic Grand Central Market; slurped dumplings in Chinatown; and enjoyed mariachi bands on Olvera Street.
MINGLED WITH NEW PEOPLE.
I’d never met a real, live porn actor before! Who knew LA had such an intriguing cross-section of humans? I was fortunate enough to be on a jury with sane, nice people. I wouldn’t have them met under other circumstances, and had great conversations on random topics: What it’s like to live in Burbank, or work with Kyra Sedgwick, or be in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times.
In a world of rude gestures and Internet trolls, it was refreshing to hear the lawyers speaking so respectfully not only to the judge, but also to each other. And once we went into deliberation, my fellow jurors were thoughtful, careful, and fair. As one of the other jurors noted, “If I’m ever on the other side of this and get arrested, I hope I’d get a jury exactly like this.”The next time I get a jury summons in the mail, I will be happy to report. Because jury duty is like many things in life: It’s not the circumstances that matter so much as what you make of the experience.