My Civic Duty: Jury Duty in Essex County, NJ

Today I reported for jury duty in Newark, NJ, my county’s seat (some would say a** since Newark doesn’t get a whole lot of respect here in Jersey). The setup for prospective jurors has changed significantly from “the old days” when prospective jurors were offered brown jugs of stale coffee, inadequate seating for the amount of people drafted to come in, lack of clean toilet facilities and more I’ve blocked out.

Parking was quick and easy. . .and close to the courthouse entrance.

Yes, today I pulled into a lovely parking lot adjacent to the courthouse, locked my vehicle and walked into a sun-filled lobby where I was quickly scanned/checked through security. On arrival in the juror gathering area I waited for about 5 minutes in a line to check in/receive my badge and generalized instructions on a blue piece of paper, then I was directed into one of three large gathering rooms to await my swearing in/summoning to a courtroom. The areas are clean, bright and inviting with the 3 large rooms (each with 2 widescreen flatscreen TVs) playing different cable channels, a separate room with WiFi and privacy carrels to work and two general seating areas; the bathrooms are clean and offered a choice of 5 toilets with toilet paper, hand soap and paper towels. I was in prospective juror heaven.

After checking in at 8 a.m., we all relaxed, many with a cup of Essex County-supplied Keurig coffee in hand, until the video commenced at 9 a.m.; lasting about 30 minutes, the video told me what I needed to know about being a juror in an Essex County courtroom. After that, a “real” person discussed the information provided on the blue piece of paper; she reviewed juror requirements, security, parking, check-in, terms of service and much more.We were told that the busiest days for jurors in Essex County are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Who knew? The first pools of prospective jurors were called over the PA system at 10 am. I was not among them so I read a book. Have you read Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan? I like its sprawling multi-generational Irish American family story.

I wolfed down half the sandwich before I remembered to take a photo!

We were dismissed for lunch at noon and told to report back by 1:30. I took off at a fast walk to find some good Newark, NJ food. I found it in Hobby’s Deli just a few blocks east of the courthouse. An old style deli in a run-down neighborhood, Hobby’s is a Newark institution. I noshed on the ‘free’ pickles at the table then dug into the best California (rosemary-infused) chicken sandwich I’ve ever tasted. Served on toasted 12 grain bread, the chicken was incredibly flavorful and moist, accompanied by diced red peppers, mozzarella, arugula, and avocado. I ate the whole thing and made it back in plenty of time!

At 2 pm 3 panels of prospective jurors were called, me among them. I reported to a courtroom that was standing room only; at least 100 prospective jurors jammed the courtroom awaiting instructions and details from the judge about the upcoming trial, which he anticipates could extend for a number of weeks. I stood cheek to jowl with fellow county residents for 30 minutes — 15 minutes of details about the upcoming case then another 15 minutes filling out a multi-page questionnaire about myself and my outlook and attitudes toward the justice system. An older man seated near me, noticing that I had finished my questionnaire, tugged on my pant leg and proceeded to tell me how old he is and describe his prostrate and diabetes to me in great detail to pass the time until the judge re-entered the courtroom. By the time we were dismissed we were a sweaty bunch and I for one had feet gone numb from standing. I made my escape out into the chilly afternoon as soon as the judge dismissed us. Of course, I report back to the same courtroom tomorrow morning for the jury selection process. I figure I’ll arrive early so I won’t have to stand for the entire process; 30 minutes in one spot seems like it’s my limit, at least in an overheated courtroom!

Have you been on jury duty recently? What was it like for you?

 

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5 Responses to My Civic Duty: Jury Duty in Essex County, NJ

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Darlene —

    My name is Steve Sears, and I’m a freelance writer based in Bloomfield.

    How are you?

    I finished up a jury duty stint this past Wednesday (two days, no trials), and I do think things have improved for jurors facility-wise.

    This being said, I was happy to come home…for good.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    • Hi Steve,
      I’m glad you felt conditions had improved too. I met some real characters on jury duty. They made my days, which otherwise would have been pretty dull!
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. D. Barlow says:

    All of our family have answered the call to Jury Duty in Essex County. It has not been pleasant or worthwhile. Trials…None thank you, but plenty of frustration, waiting and suffering in ultra hot rooms and standing for a long time. I personally did not have to deal with this, but some of my family have had to deal with some smug , insulting and threatening judges. One wonders where these people get the nerve to act in such a manner. The choosing of jurors, the slow process of informing jurors of their status and the intimidating questioning takes its toll. This week my wife was scheduled to make her first appearance on Thursday, July 3, 2014, the day before the holiday weekend. She will be 70 in about 7 weeks and not in the best of health. There was no basis for her to be excused, not to mention the ruin of our July 4th weekend plans. Unhappy as these circumstances are, it was worse finding out on July 3rd afternoon that her service was cancelled. Nice job Essex County!

    • Gosh! I really feel bad for you and your wife. You have my sincere sympathy! No one likes to have long holiday weekend plans disrupted and then the organization doing the disrupting cancels at the last minute.
      Regards,
      Darlene

  3. Arthur says:

    Jury Duty in Essex County is a joke – a horrible, time wasting experience that leaves you with no faith in the justice system at all, especially if you get on a case.

    The judge in Essex County are a particularly dreadful lot. Nasty, arrogant and, it must be said, they don’t seem too bright either. They’re antagonistic and looking for trouble… which, one would think, Newark has quite enough of.

    I got stuck on a case despite being in a family full of law enforcement and stating that I would nullify the law if I thought it necessary, and then they were surprised they got a hung jury and lectured us for 30 minutes about it, about how much taxpayer money (which I think they had NO right to do actually, you aren’t supposed to penalize a jury for its verdict).

    But hey, put admitted nullifiers on your jury and you will likely get what you deserve.

    But last time I got called I got thrown in the slammer for contempt of court for saying I would nullify if necessary (which doesn’t seem fair to me, to put someone in jail for telling the truth while under oath – but hey, that’s our justice system.

    I think I would do almost ANYTHING to get out of ever having to perform jury service again.

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