Yes, I did, and I was excited. Being on a jury is one of the missing pieces in my legal experience. I’ve been a lawyer and a judge for over 35 years and never, ever had I been summoned. My name was in the system, I know, but it just never came up. I’ve been retired from the bench for a number of years. I have remained involved in some aspects 0f our legal system through teaching and serving on community boards and organizations but I was not in the private practice of law. I had always wanted to be on a jury. As a judge, I especially had pleasant recollections of the time I spent chatting with jurors following their verdicts.
So, I was stoked, thinking that my years removed and clear ability to compartmentalize would serve me and the justice system well. After all, Steven Levinson, then sitting Supreme Court Justice Levinson, was on a jury, in my courtroom no less. So, why not me, too?! However, when I shared with my lawyer friends my upcoming summons date, all I heard was loud guffaws and patronizingly kind words to the effect that “no lawyer wants YOU on their jury!”. Hey, but Steven Levinson was on a jury, why not me? Because, they all said, that was a big mistake and never should have happened! To this day, lawyers still talk about the case in which Justice Levinson served as juror as the one thing you don’t ever want to happen to you. (he was a great juror, by the way, too) So, they said, having a judge, albeit a retired one is just not something any lawyer wants to encounter. I ignored them all and dutifully sent in my request for a different date since I would be out of town for the original summons date. I supplied my itinerary and did not ask to be exempted. The exempted category included sitting judges but, alas, I said, I am “retired”, just a regular retired person. Card carrying member of AARP. I got a new date and proudly announced to all who would listen that I was reporting for jury duty. It still got laughs and howls of ridicule from my friends and lawyer associates.
I went to bed early the night before, planned out my jury clothes, a sweater for the cold courtroom, reading materials for any delays and even prepared myself a light breakfast. I did not sleep well because I was too anxious and excited (probably the same sensations regular people had all the years I was involved in summoning jurors to court proceedings. I planned ahead for traffic delays and parking issues so much so that I arrived at the court a full 45 minutes ahead of time. I stood patiently in the security line and smiled as a few of the lawyers rushing into the building noticed me, probably wondering if I had gotten a traffic ticket or. . . ?
I took the elevator and joined the rest of the summoned citizens in the juror waiting room and listened to the court staffer explain what was going to happen that morning. I found myself feeling offended that she spent so much time trying to explain to people how to get the judge to excuse them, knowing in my mind that none of the situations she described would have been good reason to be excused unless there was a plane ticket or hotel reservation in hand. We were then directed upstairs to the assigned courtroom. I felt vindicated when Judge Eddins, after giving a rather detailed and inspiring history of the importance of noble citizen participation in our justice system, somewhat forcefully assured the panel that there was hardly any excuse he would consider valid for dismissal. I felt better because I assumed it meant me, too. Now, of course, Judge Eddins and the lawyers knew that Juror 43 was me. .. but still. I held out hope.
The clerk begin calling out the names of the first 12 potential jurors to take seats in the jury box. I was the 11th person to be called. I repressed the urge to triumphantly raise my fist in a power salute and shout “YES!” I totally avoided eye contact with Judge Eddins, who had appeared before me many, many times when he was a public defender and in private practice (and yes, he was very good). Adding to the irony was the fact that the courtroom was the same one in which I had presided! I was sitting in the same box that hundreds of jurors appearing before me had occupied and Todd was in my seat! It was hard to stifle a laugh at all the ironies but I did. The instructive spiel he gave to the jurors was so familiar, I could silently recite his next words in my head. “Do you know any of the potential witnesses?”, “anything about this kind of case that makes it difficult for you to be fair?”. It was a domestic violence case and those always raise potential conflicts, usually from those who have been abused themselves and/or those who have been accused. As potential jurors asked to approach the bench to consult with the judge and counsel, I could almost predict what the discussion was about, especially when the law clerk discreetly and politely allowed them to leave the courtroom and a replacement juror was called.
Finally, counsel began the process of conducting their “voir dire”, asking each juror questions to assure their impartiality. I actually began to get nervous as my time approached. Probably the same way most “regular” folks felt too. The prosecutor was the first to actually pose questions to me, he was not one of the old-timers so I did not know him personally. He asked me, as he did the others, if I had a different response to any of the judge’s questions. I said “no, I could be fair”. Then the question, “so, Ms. Simms, you previously worked for the . . . Judiciary? “Yes, but I am retired now”. . . He smiled nervously. . .”and you were, you were a judge, right?”. Heads turned, eyes shifted. “Yes, but, but, I am retired now. .. it would have no bearing on this case”. . . Sure. He moved on to the next person.
The lawyers began asking for jurors to be excused “for cause”. There were only a couple of challenges for cause and I was not one of them. So far, so good I thought. I was getting close. Judge Eddins then explained the peremptory challenges to the panel, admonishing them to not take it personally, as I had said hundreds of time before in another life. The state waived its first two challenges and I was getting stoked. Defense announced its first challenge, a woman who suddenly could not speak English. And then he said, “I’d like to thank and excuse the juror in chair 11” That was ME! I was being peremptorily bumped!
I gathered my purse, water bottle and book to make my way out the door. Judge Eddins looked at me and smiled. I did, too. “Nice to see you again” he said. “Nice to see you again, too. Have a nice day”
Justice is served.