Friday, October 4, 2013

Jury duty - City of Houston edition

Yesterday I had jury duty for the City of Houston. Although it was only traffic court, I was hoping I would at least make it on a panel to sit through someone else voir dire. Unfortunately I didn't even make it to a courtroom since they only needed three jury panels this afternoon.

Here's the blow-by-blow from Twitter today...
I have jury duty this morning in municipal court. I've got my fingers crossed I make the panel this time so I can see what goes on in back.
Dude in front of me in jury assembly room is wearing his shirt inside-out. Are there no mirrors in his house?  
Hmmm. One of the magazines in the jury room is Garden & Gun. Maybe that's the best way to handle fire ants and mosquitos.
Sitting here bored out of my skull waiting to get put on a panel. Rare that any trial starts before 1pm.
Back after a lengthy lunch break waiting to be assigned to a panel. Why did we have to be here at 9am again?
It appears that our friend with the inside-out shirt fixed it at lunch.
Dammit. They don't have my juror appreciation certificate printed out.
Just got dismissed. Never got on a panel. Never made it to a courtroom. Bummer.  
And, of course, it's raining.
Was it an inconvenience to have to spend my day in the jury room at the Municipal Courthouse? Sure it was. But there is something about being on the other side of things that I find interesting. I will also say that the administrator was very personable and kept us all informed about what was going on.

The room in the back for charging your phone and laptop was a great benefit. I spent most of my time after our first break and in the afternoon back there reading a book on my phone.

My one main criticism is having jurors come in at 9 am. In the eight years I've been working in the municipal courts, I've had all of one trial in which we started voir dire before the lunch break. In reality, trials aren't getting going until about 2 pm. There are generally a handful of cases remaining unresolved when the courts break for lunch. Give a few minutes to work out the cases that can be worked out at it's at least two before you can start a trial.

So, why not just have jurors come in at noon or 1 pm? It'll give the administrator plenty of time to play the jury service video. They'd have to find time to have a judge come down and talk to the jurors about exemptions and disqualifications - but they have three judges who all serve administrative duties so it can be done.

I would have preferred to have served on a panel so I could experience what happens back in the jury room. I think it would make me a better lawyer to at least have an idea of how things happen back there. At a minimum I would have liked to have watched someone else conducting a voir dire where I didn't have to keep notes.

But at least all of us who showed up this morning allowed three defendants to try their cases in front of a jury of their peers - and that's something to be proud of.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you had been on a jury, you probably would have found the defendant not guilty because the volunteer attorneys prosecuting the cases never prove all the requirements listed in the jury charge, especially the requirement to show that the traffic control device was properly placed by a competent authority. I've been on two juries that acquitted clearly guilty defendants specifically because the City didn't prove the signs were legally placed.