Last Monday, I got to the court house around 8:00 and was placed in a huge waiting room of people hoping not to be called. I think I got called in group #3. I secretly wanted to be called because I thought, at worst, I’d miss two days of work. Wrong. So they moved our group into a different court house and had us wait in a new waiting room. I guess the sight of our smiling faces scared the defendant because he decided to settle. At around 3:00, we were shipped back to the first court house and waited to be called again. That took about five minutes.
The new group (all of my original group except 6) were shipped upstairs to a new judge/court room. We actually got into voir dire (the process of questioning the jurors to determine the “best twelve”). We were there until around five when we were told to come back the following morning around 9.
I could tell that the questions they were asking weren’t necessarily going to disqualify me. I was seated in the jury box at the time and knew that they did the cancelling in order from the first to be called, to the last. After lunch on the second day, I was told that I would be a member of the jury and that the attorneys had stated that the trial would be over by Thursday (wrong again).
They started the trial right away. Not to get into all the nitty gritty of the thing but here were the basic facts. A man owned a Western Sizzlin’ restaurant that caught on fire and burned down. He was suing the designer/installer of the smoke alarm system in the restaurant. The kind of unusual thing about this trial was that there was actual surveillance video of the fire starting. I think that really made the case for the plaintiff. That and the fact that it was a 9000 square foot building that only had three smoke detectors, none of which were near the fire, AND that it took one of those smoke detectors 1.5 hours before it called the fire department that happened to be located across the street.
Long story short, the trial lasted until 3:00 Friday afternoon when the jury was sent to the assembly room to wait for closing statements. At 6:00 that night, we were called back, read our instructions and given the closing statements. I was named the jury foreman (foreperson?) and it was a frustrating experience. It takes 9 people to agree on the verdict. There were three actions against the defendant. Were were in a deadlock on two of them and close on a third so we concentrated on that count. We delivered our verdict around 10:20ish that night. We found for the owner of the Western Sizzlin’ and awarded him $1,016,000 (around half of what he asked). I got home at 11 that night after being at the court house for over 13 hours.
I’ve had mixed feelings about my experience as a juror. On one hand, I’m proud that I could serve in that capacity. On the other hand, I hate thinking about what impact that verdict is going to have on the defendant and his life. I think we did the right thing and I agree with the verdict that was handed down. I just hate thinking that it could’ve ruined someone’s life.
So that my friends, is jury duty. I won’t have to serve again for at least another year and I’m glad. One week was enough.