The verdict on Jury Duty in Cook County
I received my summons to appear at Jury Duty. I didn’t want to use any excuses having been a reporter covering the court system, being a political columnist who writes about court cases, having been in several legal cases as a defendant and plaintiff in political cases in court proceedings, or being a recent cancer survivor — cancer free — who finds it uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time during the recovery period. But honestly, it wasn’t as bad as many people fear. It was actually pretty good
By Ray Hanania
I got another summons to appear before a Cook County court this week for “jury duty.”
Many people try to avoid this service, especially those who work for a living and can’t afford the $16 a day that the court gives jurors – today it is $17.20. It costs $40 to park in most places. The county will not reimburse you for the costs of parking, but many places in the suburbs provide free parking.
Still, I figure, that’s little expense for us to participate in the foundations of the Democratic system of the Rule of Law.
Personally, I’m not sure I would want a jury to decide my case – although I have been involved in several political cases as a journalist, as an opinion columnist and as a political consultant. The public is often influenced by what they see rather than what they hear.
However, I feel I have the credentials to be the perfect juror.
I watch NBC series “Law & Order” every chance I get, and I’m hooked on Investigation Discovery’s “Forensic Files” TV program.
Criminals do some pretty stupid things and it is so enjoyable to watch them be exposed as “THE LOW-LIFE CRIMINALS THAT THEY REALLY ARE!
OK, I should calm down a bit. Those shows do get me upset, though, especially when a murderer beats the system.
So, I go to jury duty with a tough but balanced view that you are both guilty until proven innocent, and innocent until proven guilty.
With all my years of watching these TV murder serials, I figure I can spot a killer from great distance. Their fake smiles and fake crying won’t get past me.
“GIVE THEM THE DEATH PENALTY!”
Calm down, Ray. Oooom Namaste Asana Yanti! Breath! (Most of the killers get caught, I have to remind myself.) Breath! Well, it took 50 years to catch the East Area Rapist in California. Still, they got him.
As Juror 12 once said in “12 Angry Men,” the 1957 movie about an American courtroom drama, “This isn’t an exact science.”
I tried to figure out why I get picked for jury duty so often. Some people say if you register to vote, you are going to get nailed. Others say if you are an immigrant and become a citizen, you get nailed. Others say it’s all political. The system doesn’t like you, you get picked. You made some politician angry, you get picked. You’re a minority, you get picked.
I am hoping when I finally retire, I might make being a juror my retirement profession. I can be decisive.
“Guilty! Oh, well maybe … Not Guilty. Ah, how about a do-over?”
I also look forward to that greasy food they serve in government buildings. One time, I lived on Snickers bars from the vending machine in the hallway at the Criminal Courts Building on 26th and California.
That was a scary place. I covered it as a reporter in the 1990s but the place is jam-packed with parents who never knew their sons were drug-dealing street gang members carrying guns, until they were shot and killed by police officers. Then, they got to file “Jack Pot” lawsuits against the Chicago Police that pay better than the Illinois Lottery.
Hey, but in the end, I did my patriotic duty. I served.
I remember I was in a court case (that I won), but when the court was picking the jury the Judge asked the 40 potential jurors who were in the gallery, “Does anyone recognize any of the plaintiffs or defendants?” Fifteen potential jurors raised their hands and said, “I know Ray Hanania. He’s that Arab guy who writes for the newspaper.”
Aw darn. That’s gonna influence the jury’s decision-making process.
So I did report in for Jury Duty in Maywood. The form told me to be there at 8:30, but like the 50 other people there, I got there earlier and stood in line inside the entrance of the grand Circuit Court building.
There are different restrictions on jurors than those who are there to attend court cases, either as lawyers, plaintiffs or serial killers. Jurors get to bring in their cell phones, iPads and even Laptop computers so they can use them during the sometimes day-long wait in the Jury Room, before you are picked for a case.
The rest of the people have to turn their cell phones off or leave them in their cars.
The employees at the Circuit Court are polite but robotic. They give the same instructions not just every day but thousands of times each day to visitors who have to be screened through the metal detectors.
Belts must come off and be rolled up. Wallet, loose change, cell phones and electronics go into the little plastic bin on the conveyer belt. Glasses and sun glasses, too.
Jurors carry their notice for Jury Duty sheets with them. They have to be filled out ahead of time, answering questions like, “Have you been the victim or a crime?” Have you been in a court case?” “Are you in a court case?” They also want to know what you do.
People tend to dress down for jury duty, wearing comfortable clothing, so it’s hard to tell what people do just by looking at them. Men, women, young old. We all stand in line, all the same. Black, White, Hispanic. And me, the lone Arab.
Once in, we are greeted by a Circuit Court employee. His name is Joe, a really nice gentleman. Everyone lines up to check in and he reviews your forms, and asks questions just in case.
“Good morning sir/ma’am how are you … everything correct? Your name and your address? … ok … your panel number is … Hold on to your number and make yourself comfortable.”
Joe’s greeting is almost identical for each person he meets in line.
There are about 80 seats in the sequestered room for jurors. By 9 am there are only about 40 people in the room. Each juror is assigned a different Panel Number that ranged this morning between 1 and 20. But it didn’t seem like they had enough people in one panel to make a 12-person jury. Maybe they mix panels.
Joe welcomes us and shows us a video … “You, the Juror.” It is narrated by former WMAQ Chicago TV political reporter Lester Holt, who is now an NBC network reporter and crime show host. The last time I saw one of these videos was at the Daley Center and it was produced by Tom Shaer, also a former WMAQ TV sports reporter.
The videos include welcomes from Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who I knew as an alderman when I covered Chicago City Hall. I don’t think Evans likes me very much because, during the aftermath of Mayor Washington’s death in November 1987, he didn’t like my coverage of his efforts to be named acting mayor as Washington’s successor. The majority alderman voted to elect Ald. Eugene Sawyer. Evans and I were not always on the same side in politics, though I think he would have made a great mayor, too.
Evans has since ruled against me in several political cases I have been involved in. I’m sure it’s all a coincidence, and he might argue I wasn’t fair to him.
Hey, it’s all politics, I guess.
Holt walks us through the process of jury selection and the court system. Most of which we know but it never hurts to hear it again.
Joe tells us we are serving on the “One day, one trial system” which means either you wait one-day or you serve on one trial. A trial can run between one day and 3 days, Joe explains.
And then everyone sets in for the day-long haul. Will we be selected? Will we get a case? It is funny how strangers select their seating. As people were greeted by Joe from behind the clerk’s counter, it seemed that the first seats taken were the “corner” seats. The seats were set up in two sections, six rows of six chairs, and chairs lining each side of the room against the wall.
The chairs are comfortable. But no one took a seat right next to another person. Everyone chose to keep space on their sides.
But the room didn’t seem filled up at all.
There are two bathrooms in the room and a vending machine cafeteria through a door. Jurors are not allowed to leave the room – they are sequestered by the court during the process and can only leave when escorted by a Circuit Court employee like Joe.
The nice thing is that the Circuit Court now offers free WiFi (with a username and password that they provide). It works like a hotel WiFi system that takes you to a website to log-in.
Checking email and texts help pass the time. I watched a live streaming episode of my favorite Netflix series, “Orange is the New Black” about life in a woman’s prison. It’s in its 6th Season. And I thought it was very appropriate.
Everyone was pretty quiet during the wait. No surprises. The seats are comfortable, although still recovering from cancer surgery, it was difficult to sit in one position for too long. (I didn’t want to use Cancer Surgery as an excuse to miss Jury Duty.)
At about noon, Joe asked for everyone’s attention. I thought he was going to release us for lunch. There were a bunch of fast food restaurants off of Route 171 and Roosevelt Road.
But instead, he announced that we were all free to go home. The court didn’t need us this day. So he called us up by Panel Numbers and gave us each a check for our service, $17.20.
It wasn’t so bad at all.
You have to give Justice Evans credit. He’s done a good job with the Circuit Courts since he took over. The room and the court is very clean. The employees were all extra polite to the mostly apprehensive jurors and visitors. There was plenty of parking.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it could be.
But then, I’m a cynical former political reporter who covered the courts and now a political opinion columnist.
When you get your court summons. Take a break from life and get ready to enjoy the experience. It really is worth it.
(Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. Contact him at his personal website at www.Hanania.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)