May 19th, 2009
08:30 AM ET

Jury service, not duty

Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on
In Session.”

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Jami Floyd
AC360° Contributor
In Session Anchor

Last week, I was called for jury duty. No surprise there; but I was surprised at how many friends, family members and even viewers offered suggestions of how i might get out of it. Others offered their sympathies. But no sympathy is necessary because, unlike too many Americans, I actually like jury duty — cherish it, in fact.

I believe in our constitutional system of justice and the jury is at its core. It is an honor and a privilege to serve.

That is why so many Americans fought for the right to do so. African-Americans weren’t permitted to sit on juries until 1867. Women didn’t get the constitutional right to serve until 1975. If you were black or a woman, a jury of your peers really wasn’t.

No one understood this better than Judith Kaye — the first woman to sit as chief judge for the state of New York, and the longest sitting chief ever. Judge Kaye did a whole lot to make jury duty more meaningful — and more pleasant too.

The criminal courts run 24/7 in New York; so imagine my surprise when I got down to the courthouse last week to find the whole process streamlined, with far less waiting around time than in previous years; friendly clerks, downright funny even, who understood that good humor goes a long way in a room full of grumpy New Yorkers.

Most significantly, Judge Kaye did away with automatic exemptions. People groused at first, but the practical effect is wondrous: The pool is much bigger and that means each New Yorker is summoned less often — with six years in between stints, if you serve.

In fact, Judge Kaye called it jury service, not jury duty. She was right. Jury service is one of the few things your country asks of you. And a fair and impartial jury of your peers is what you will ask for, if ever you are seated on the other side of that courtroom.

Find more In Session blogs here.

Filed under: In Session • Jami Floyd
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. William of Iowa

    I have been called to serve three times. The first was cancelled (notice by phone recorder) and the other two I served on a jury. I was amazed at the prospective jurors who were determined to "get out of it" and were openly sharing ideas with one another in the waiting area but concluded that their circumstances were different from mine. My employer reimburses workers called to jury duty minus what the state pays (which is trivial). Economics, so I thought, was the real reason so many wanted out. As a matter of fact, during voir dire, the judge posed the question of economic hardship upon prospective jurors and generally released those with difficulties.

    May 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Sandra

    GF – you are in for a rude awakening. Nobody is seeking justice, the criminal is looking for a way out.

    May 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm |
  3. GF, Los Angeles

    I just got summoned for the first time and look forward to possibly serving. I think it's an experience we should all have just to see how the justice system works. I agree it is an honor to serve – there are those who have been innocent that were sentenced and those who were guilty that are set free. It's our job to try as best as we can not to make either of those scenarios happen. There are victims in these cases and we should do our best to make sure that justice is carried out correctly.

    May 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  4. Teresa, OH

    While I have never gotten the "call", I know people who have gotten out of jury duty quite easily.

    As I really dont consider anyone my "peer", I dont consider myself a good juror. I am very judgemental and I dont believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I assume everyone did it and thats why they were arrested and now they have to prove why they didnt do the crime. I am, however, very open minded about facts and evidence.

    I wouldnt make a good juror : )

    May 19, 2009 at 11:44 am |
  5. Michelle D . Fonthill. Ont

    Dear Jami

    I can't beleive you liked being picked for this jury duty ugh! I have been picked too for selection it 's not pretty waiting forever for lawyers to get thier case together it's crazy hours seem to pass on and on .So did you get picked? I never did but i can't imagine the grumpies of New Yorkers crammed into a room waiting for this i can symaphize .

    May 19, 2009 at 10:43 am |
  6. SLM

    Good for you, have a wonderful time. If it is every ones "duty" to serve, why don't you ever see Low lifes there?

    May 19, 2009 at 10:16 am |