How does an entire profession get past polarized deadlocks over good vs. bad, legal vs, illegal? About the only way to gain traction is with a bold new idea. On that note, here’s Exhibit A.
If you were challenged to identify one civic duty that is almost universally greeted with disappointment — if not dread — at the top of the list would be receiving a letter announcing that you’ve been selected for jury duty.
It’s like wining the negative lottery, and reading the first paragraph of such a letter prompts a twofold reaction: First, a Nancy Kerrigan-esque “Why me?” followed almost immediately by the formulation of a strategy designed to get out of having to serve.
Illness, travel requirements, family demands – people quickly compile a laundry list of reasons why they shouldn’t have to participate in what is arguably one of the most important components of our democracy.
However, the reality is that there are people who would love to have the opportunity to serve on a jury, me included. In all the decades I’ve been a registered voter, I’ve never once received a summons for jury duty, while I’ve watched literally dozens of friends, family and colleagues complain about hitting what they perceive to be an unlucky number.
But an out-of-the-box response to this seemingly intractable situation has suddenly emerged. In New Jersey, a state lawmaker wants to let those residents of the Garden State who actually want to serve on a jury be given that privilege.
Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, a Democrat representing Middlesex district in central part of the state, has introduced A2949, a bill that would create a new pool of volunteer jurors.
“If they are out of work, in college or retired and want to do their civic duty, this would require the county clerk to compile a separate list of people who want to volunteer,” Coughlin said last week.
No doubt, the actual experience of serving on a jury bears no resemblance to the televised scenes on cops show and legal dramas, where jurors get to make life-and-death decisions about the fate of serial killers, corporate criminals and high-profile public officials accused of heinous crimes.
In the real world, jurors have to sit through — with the emphasis on “sit” — endless hours of the jury selection process, interminable delays while attorneys jockey over various motions peripheral to the case and in the end, lengthy and extremely frustrating arguments over guilt and innocence that need to be hashed out during deliberations.