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.
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.
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?