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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 10_11_2013
10/10/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 11, 2013

 

I did my civic duty this week. On Wednesday morning, I responded to a summons to report for jury duty. The truth is that I rescheduled three times since last spring, so I had no choice but to go. From experience I knew to bring my iPad, a sandwich, a bottle of water, a pack of gum, two pens, a phone charger, and a book. Whether I was standing, sitting, waiting, hungry, or thirsty, I was prepared. I’m not an Eagle Scout, but I know how to get ready for unfamiliar terrain.

                Once I was seated in the jury holding room in the basement level of 1201 Congress St, a great improvement over the cattle pens of years ago, I watched the video, turned in my papers (just the bottom half), and listened for my number, which was exchanged for my name. No longer was I rabbi, David, or even Lyon; I was just a number. They said it was easier that way; well, maybe for them. Without too much delay, the bailiff lined us up by number and led us two-by-two through a maze of corridors, up an elevator to the 19th floor, and lined us up along the wall. There weren’t any numbers that measured our height so it felt safe to face front or turn to the side.

                When we filed into the courtroom we were told where to sit next to our fellow numbers. It was very efficient but completely infantilizing. It’s been a very long time since I was told when I could take a bathroom break. The judge was amiable enough. Once I recognized who were the lawyers, the bailiffs and the court reporter, it occurred to me that the odd-man-out was the criminal defendant. For some reason I kept checking to be sure the bailiff was keeping an eye on him. The “voir dire” commenced with questions from the prosecuting attorneys. Trained to question lines of logic, I raised my hand three times to probe the attorney’s analogies about prosecutorial evidence. Each time the attorney called my number and I made my point. Frankly, he didn’t disagree with me; but, only because his analogies were like open hunting season for rabbis. After each exchange, I felt vindicated but not without concern that a mark was being placed by my name and for reasons that would not become clear until much later in the day.

                A lunch break was announced. Most of the Eagle Scouts went down to the basement cafeteria. I found a bench and opened my case to eat my sandwich, catch up on emails and text Lisa that I was still a numbered juror. An hour later, we were summoned back to our numbered places in the courtroom. It was the defense attorney’s turn to determine if we could presume innocence before the case began. To my total astonishment, a juror claimed that she could not presume innocence. The judge interjected and explained that our nation’s laws presume innocence until such time that prosecutors can prove otherwise. She still couldn’t comply. I wasn’t surprised that she was dismissed as a juror. Perhaps she was being clever without being self-conscious in order to be dismissed; but, it still concerns me that she’s loose in the community.

                I didn’t tangle with the defense attorney. Eventually, they all went into a hidden room to exchange notes about all of us. They carried large yellow legal pads and many colored pens. When they returned, they were still writing notes, exchanging highlighters for pens, flipping pages and occasionally eyeing us from their desks behind the rail. Then, as if on cue, they gave all their papers and colored notes to the judge’s assistant. The attorneys returned to their seats and waited like the rest of us. Finally, the judge spoke up. He called the numbers of the men and women who would serve as jurors for the criminal case. Inching closer to my number, I grew concerned that I would be called to the juror’s box. Then it happened; I was skipped. Those marks next to my name did mean something. And, then came those magic words that are still ringing in my ears, “Ladies and gentlemen, the rest of you are dismissed and free to go.” Like children leaving school in June for summer recess, adults of all ages, races, sizes and attitudes bounded out of the courtroom to find their ways back home and work.

                Mind you, had I been seated in the jury box, I would have been pleased to serve my community. But, when I turned on my phone again and found 130 emails and numerous text messages waiting for me, I was grateful that my service to the community had been noted (at least for the next six months) and that I could return to the community where I feel more at home than anywhere else. Thank you to each of you who responds to the jury summons, who acknowledges the laws of the land, and who, when seated, fulfills one of the most important roles in our free nation. But, take it from me, bring provisions; it’s a long, long day.

                Shabbat Shalom.

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