By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Summoned for jury duty with 499 other Scott County residents, my first thoughts did not focus on fulfilling my civic duty. They focused on parking — how long would it take to find a space and how far away from the courthouse?
When Monday morning arrived, I found a spot near an abandoned house several blocks from the courthouse and then hurried to make it to check-in. No worries. Plenty of people were waiting in line.
The newness of this experience excited me, but I figured some waiting would be involved. I carried a bag with books and magazines to catch up on my reading, just in case.
We were split into groups and escorted into different courtrooms where we watched an educational video about jury duty. Each of us had been assigned a number and when that number was called, the individual headed out of the courtroom with a court attendant. Some stayed put, having been assigned to that courtroom. My number didn’t get called.
As I wondered what to do, a court employee in a bright pink jacket entered the courtroom and asked, “Is there a Barbara Arland-Fye here?” “That’s me!” I responded. She smiled and said everyone was waiting for me in another courtroom. “That’s cool,” I said as I got up from my chair to follow her. Other people in the courtroom laughed.
In the second courtroom, I took my place in the jury box beside two other women named Barbara. The prosecuting and defense attorneys had no trouble identifying one Barbara from another because our names appeared on a seating chart on their tables. A young man wearing a navy blue button-down shirt and khaki slacks, charged with Operating While Intoxicated, sat next to his attorney.
Both attorneys questioned us one by one about our use of alcohol and that of family members and friends. I don’t recall any potential juror in that room whose life had not been impacted by alcohol, directly or indirectly. Two of the potential jurors shared that they had been convicted of drunken driving years ago. Our group’s responses made me more aware of the misuse of alcohol in our culture and the painful consequences.
After two hours of questioning (with one restroom break), the attorneys exchanged charts, crossing out names in back-and-forth silent negotiations to select jurors. Those of us who were dismissed thought that we had fulfilled our civic duty. Instead, the judge told us to report to the clerk of court upstairs. We might be needed for a different trial.
Prospective jurors jammed the inside of the large courtroom on the third floor while the rest of us waited in the long hallway outside. I wondered, but never learned, what trial required such a huge pool of juror candidates. Toward the end of the afternoon, I was dismissed. My civic duty for a couple of years had been fulfilled.
Our church teaches that “How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy —directly affects the common good and the capacity of individuals to develop their full potential. Every person has a right and a duty to participate actively in shaping society and to promote the well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship).
My apprehension about finding a parking spot was a small price to pay in my obligation to serve the common good.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)