Jury duty is a critical part of the American justice system, something that should feel like a privilege to the proud, free citizen who's called to serve. But those who've been summoned to King County Superior Court, as I was yesterday, know that such a heady feeling is elusive, to put it mildly. Ten bucks per day compensation--a rate of pay that hasn't changed in half-a-century--and the crappiest wi-fi connection this side of the South Pole don't exactly give you that warm and fuzzy feeling as you wait to be tapped.
If you take our advice, odds are you won't ever have to endure the likes of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.
My number got called right out of the chute--juror #39 in a pool of 44 that'd be narrowed to 14 (inclusive of alternates). Fortunately, both sides of the case--a civil dispute projected to take two weeks to resolve--were satisfied with the jury's composition before I had to ascend to the box.
I dodged a bullet--luckily, mind you, because I went in unarmed. But thanks to a prominent local trial attorney who agreed to provide his expert insight in exchange for anonymity, you won't have to. Courtesy of this legal eagle (a strong supporter of the jury system who admonished us for our query before supplying advice for sport), we bring you The Daily Weekly's top six tips for how to not get chosen to serve on a jury once you've been lumped into a jury pool:6. Join the ACLU. Says our lawyer: "I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. While I think that uniquely qualifies me to serve on a jury hearing a criminal matter, on two occasions the King County prosecutor's office used their preemptory challenges to excuse me from the jury, I suspect because of my membership in the ACLU. I think the prosecutor's perception, albeit mistaken, is that ACLU members are sympathetic to criminal defendants and won't follow the law. I don't think that's true, but it doesn't seem to stop them from bouncing ACLU members out of the jury pool."
5. Know (or pretend to know) somebody who's got something to do with the case. "Early on, the judge will ask jurors if they know any of the parties, the potential witnesses, the lawyers or the court and staff. One's familiarity with the parties or witnesses [could give] the appearance of bias, which everyone wants to avoid on a jury. It certainly isn't a basis to excuse you for cause, but a lawyer doesn't want someone who is chummy with opposing counsel sitting on the jury."
4. Embark upon a career in the legal profession. "I know an instance in which a recently retired Superior Court judge was called to jury duty and actually was sat on a jury. Obviously this isn't a perfect solution. But you could go to law school, become a lawyer, go to social events at which the King County judges attend, become friends with them and other trial lawyers, and create that appearance of bias."
3. Exhibit an intractable opinion on a topic pertinent to the case. "In some cases there are positions taken or facts stipulated before trial that the jury has to know about. For example, in an unlawful possession of a firearm case, the defendant had to have had some prior conviction that took away his right to possess a firearm. During voire dire (the process by which the lawyers get to ask you questions either to figure out who you are and what your views are, or to manipulate you to adopt their view of the case) the defense counsel discloses that fact and will ask if that affects anyone's views of the defendant at the start of the case, before hearing any evidence. In other words, can you nevertheless have an open mind about this defendant if you know that he has already been convicted of a crime before? A young man sitting next to me in the jury box during voire dire said, 'Well, I'm sorry, I just can't see past that.' I believed he was play acting. The defense counsel and the judge hammered on him about his ability to have an open mind, and the guy would never concede that he wasn't completely biased. The judge reluctantly bounced him for cause at the defense counsel's request. I say reluctantly because one narrow-minded moron who gets away with this just schools the rest of the jury pool in how to get out of jury duty. So, one way to get off the jury is to express an inability to over look some bias and prejudice, show how utterly narrow-minded you are, refuse to consider the evidence. You may get kicked off for cause, or one of the lawyers will bounce you with a preemptory."
2. Move to Port Roberts and open an ice cream store. "In a federal case a few years ago in the Western District of Washington, the judge asked if serving on a month-long jury trial would be a hardship for anyone. One of the jurors was from Port Roberts, that little peninsula of land that is part of the US but is completely land locked by Canada. Its part of Whatcom County and is within the Western District of Washington. The juror owned an ice cream store in Port Roberts, and this was early May, the beginning of the tourist season there. To get to the courthouse she had to drive into Canada, through customs and border control, then into the US through the Peace Arch crossing at Blaine--then drive to Seattle, where the federal court is located. She obviously couldn't commute back and forth each day during the trial; the federal government would have to put her up in a hotel. She had high school kids running her ice cream store during her absence, and claimed hardship, because no adult would be watching the store. Believe it or not, the judge excused her, which probably saved her from a month in a second rate hotel."
1. Plan a trip to begin the Saturday after your first day of jury duty. "In King County people are called to serve beginning on Mondays and Wednesdays. You serve two days or [one] trial and then are excused. So if you aren't called in the first two days, you are done. But if on your first day you are selected for a jury pool for case that may last 8 weeks, you might be stuck for 8 weeks. This is how you ensure you don't serve longer than the two day minimum: If you plan a trip, claim it has been long planned, actually buy the airline tickets, have them in your pocket to show the judge, and make reservations for a hotel and rental car. Have the confirmations for those with you too. When the judge asks during the early phase of the voire dire if there is any reason you can't serve on the jury for the next 8 weeks, raise your hand and tell her that you have a long-planned trip and that you've already spent the money on the tickets and hotel. No judge will make you cancel that trip. Of course, if you then go home and cancel the trip secure in the knowledge that you weaseled your way out of jury duty, you'd better not accidentally run into the judge at the mall-- because, believe me, she will remember you and may have you arrested. And [at that point], you will want to make sure that there are smart, able people on your jury."