Last Monday, the day after our blizzard, I was scheduled for jury duty at the Circuit Court of Jackson County in downtown Kansas City.
Now mind you, as a member of my chosen profession, I firmly believe in the our legal system, the jury system, and that jury duty is every citizen’s civic duty, just like paying taxes, voting and obeying the law of the land.
It is part of the cost of a free and orderly society, and we all must do our part.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask any of my friends or clients over the years who have whined to me about jury duty and inquired if “they really have to go.” I keep a soap box at my desk for just such occasions, so that I can stand on it and shame them into understanding the importance of this sacred obligation.
Up until about 15 years ago, lawyers were statutorily exempt from jury service, until a legislative enactment removed our exemption. And while I have never been chosen to serve when called, perhaps for obvious reasons, I understand the importance from a public policy and public relations standpoint of eliminating the exemption for lawyers, whose professional lives are a part of the jury system.
But last Monday was cold and crappy and snowy, and school was called off and the roads were a mess, and it was all the way downtown in traffic on those snowy, icy, crappy roads. I must admit that just a small tiny part of me really didn’t want to go. And, after all, we were supposed to be there at 8 a.m.
But of course I went. I left extra early. Traffic was crappy. The roads were crappy. And I wondered if I would be the only soul to actually make it to the courthouse on this most challenging morning.
I got there right at 8 a.m., only to find that the jury room was a packed house. How refreshing it was to see all those honorable citizens who had made the sacrifice to do their duty on this day. It was actually an emotional inspiration to see.
I found a seat, and promptly at 8, Jackson County Jury Supervisor Tracy Smedley, herself a licensed attorney who once practiced law before becoming jury supervisor some 15 years ago, addressed us.
It was essentially the same address that she gives to the new throng of prospective jurors each Monday, words of appreciation, explanation, education, and understanding about serving as a juror, and the critical role jurors play in the American system of civil and criminal justice, and indeed our way of life.
And, as always, she did it oh so well.
Then, there was a short film about jury service and the legal system, featuring some local celebrities, judges and citizens who had served on juries, followed by a robust address from Jackson County Presiding Circuit Judge John Torrence.
Then, it was wait time, until a group of some 60 of us were assembled and called up to the courtroom in Division 4 for voir dire, the process whereby the panel of citizens is questioned about their opinions, experiences and backgrounds, to help the lawyers make an informed decision on who to strike and who to keep to serve on the jury of twelve.
Lo and behold, the question was asked if anybody knew the judge, the Honorable Justine Del Muro. Two of us raised our hands – myself, and none other than Tracy Smedley, the jury supervisor, who, as it turned out, had been summoned that day to serve just like all of the rest of us.
I suppose if Tracy Smedley, who is in charge of the whole system for assimilation and management of jurors in Jackson County, is not above doing her civic duty when randomly selected for service, then a simple country lawyer like me is in no position to complain.
I was there all day. It was a criminal case. The lawyers, one of whom I knew, did a magnificent job of voir dire. And while the list of other things I had to do that day was long indeed, I truly enjoyed the experience. It reinvigorated to an extent my good feeling about my chosen profession.
No, I did not get seated on the jury, and my service was concluded at the end of that day.
But the funny thing is, the Jackson County jury supervisor and licensed attorney, Tracy Smedley, was seated as a juror for the case, just like the other eleven citizens selected to serve with her.
Ahhh, what a country we live in.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at email@example.com.