Juror pay may be lousy, but the payoff is indispensable

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, August 2, 2007

By Staff
The Fayetteville Observer, Aug. 1
Duty calls and calls, and calls, often hearing nothing but its own echo. As one lawyer put it, ‘‘Everybody likes jury duty; just not this week.’’
When too few people answer the call, offering bogus excuses or simply failing to show up, things can border on the ridiculous. That happened when Madeline Byrne was handed a summons in a supermarket parking lot and told to be in the Lee County Courthouse in just over an hour or face a contempt citation.
It isn’t ridiculous to fill the jury box that way when all else fails. We can’t have justice grinding to a halt every few hours or days while officers of the court wait for volunteers to step forward and offer their services. But if you’ve built up a nice reserve of righteous indignation, don’t waste it on the courts. Aim it at the people who make such things necessary by lying, exaggerating medical conditions and bugging out.
Of course you have important things that need doing. Everyone has important things that need doing. But if that’s an adequate reason not to serve, then hold your breath because the jury pool has just been reduced to homeless people and retirees who have no hobbies.
It may not be peculiar to America, but Americans do love their law-and-order chatter. They want to decide every case the instant a charge is brought, speculate about the particulars of the crime, pronounce sentence and decide on an appropriate punishment days, weeks and months before the case goes to trial. But about half of them make themselves scarce when presented with an opportunity to do it by the book.
That’s not because of the book. It’s because of civic laziness: the belief that they needn’t inconvenience themselves to do their part because someone else will step forward and inconvenience himself in their stead.
Whether that’s the way it actually turns out or whether a Madeline Byrne is snatched off the street because a judge and a case are waiting across town, ducking jury duty is a sorry excuse for citizenship and something to be ashamed of.
Juries are important — so important that their role in our system is set forth in the U.S. Constitution, our nation’s basic law. You don’t have to like having your time taken up by tedious work performed for token pay; but this is one of the important things you need to do.