Jury Excuses

Last week, writer and blogger Cinthia Ritchie was called in for jury duty and tweeted about it. I was reminded of what happened to me the last time I was called in for jury duty.

Before I tell you let me say that my favorite grandmother was ALWAYS put on juries. Murders, robberies, everything. She was exactly what they wanted for every case she was ever called in for. Sweet lady who got along everyone. Educated, but not “overly” so. A “housewife” who went back to work when her grandchildren were growing up.

I sort of wanted to be like her because I thought that court cases would be good fodder for writing.

But I was always in a teaching quarter/semester when I was called, so I always had to ask for an extension.

Then one day I was able to go. And you know what we did? Sat in a big group under fluorescents (you know I can’t handle those because they are a trigger for my complicated migraines, right?) and waited

and waited

and waited.

In addition to the complicated migraines, I also have primary lymphedema. Lymphedema is an everyday thing. And it is extremely exacerbated by sitting or standing still for long periods of time. I can practically watch my feet and legs swell up if I am too still (without lying down).

If you want to know more about lymphedema, here is a great blog (The Lymphie Life), written by a good writer who suffers from lymphedema.

Around 2:30 they finally corraled us all before the judge. There were at least 100 people in the room. One by one, we had to go around and tell the judge if there was some reason we could not be on the jury. By that time I could see that I wouldn’t be able to sit still for a trial. What if it went on for a full day? Or two days? Or a week or more? I would need a hospital, and they would need an alternate.

As I waited my turn, I heard all manner of excuses, mainly dealing with work and/or children. I was embarrassed for everyone having to talk about their personal lives in front of all these strangers. When people were done with their excuses, the judge explained that he would keep their difficulties in mind but that they might end up having to serve.

When it was my turn, I stood up and pretended nobody was in the room–or I would have been too scared to say anything. Then I described lymphedema, and why I couldn’t sit still long enough to be on a jury. Keep in mind that I would have loved to be on the jury.

The gray-haired judge looked at me over his glasses and nodded. “OK, you are excused from serving jury duty. You may leave.”

I turned to go, and the entire room erupted in applause. The man next to me slapped my arm and said, “Good one!” A woman raised her voice. “That’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard to avoid jury duty.”

Before the door shut behind me, I heard the judge admonishing everyone to settle down and be quiet.

I’m filing that story in the “life is unplanned” section.



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

62 responses to “Jury Excuses

  1. I’ve served on a number of juries over the years and been called to the pool but not selected a few times as well. I consider it an important civic duty, and it saddens me that so many people see it as a nuisance or just can’t be bothered. If I were ever in court, I wouldn’t want my case to be heard by a group of people who considered themselves unlucky not to figure a way to weasel out of it. 🙁

    • Think of the alternative. If nobody serves on a jury we don’t get the benefit of a jury of our peers. That could be abused even more than the current system! I was privy once to the full selection process. It was very eye-opening.

      • I know – right? People don’t think about how important it is, what it means to those involved in the case. All they think of is how inconvenient it might be. Some states and districts have better systems than others, but that doesn’t make it any less vital.

  2. Good point about having to air your privates in public that way, but it can’t be helped, I suppose. Good story! I hated the experience of serving in a jury.

  3. Many years ago, I served in the federal jury system for 2 weeks. The location was 90 minutes from my home in a large city. The commute was awful. I took the train which always seems to run late. I had to show up everyday but was only picked once for a 3 hour trial. It was one of the worst experiences. The police did not have their act together. We all knew he was guilty but we had to make a decision based the evidence as provided. We had to acquit. As for lymphedema, my good friend got it after extensive back surgery for scoliosis. I would wrap her legs for her. Eventually she got it under control to some extent but she has to be careful. You would not survive jury duty. I almost died from boredom without any medical issues.

    • Kate, I am shocked that they put you through all that to be on the jury. That is a terrible commute! And what a distressing case!
      I’m so sorry that your friend got LE after back surgery. Who knew it was possible to get it from that? although I do know that surgery in general is contraindicated for lymphedema. I hate that I can’t get plastic surgery because of that reason hahaha. Seriously, I worry more that I won’t be able to have the knee replacements both my parents got. (or hip) How is your friend doing? What a nasty surprise to end up with.

      • Eventually she got it under control but has to live with it and be careful. The back surgery was extensive. It was two surgeries a week apart, 8 to 10 hours each. For one she was cut open from the front and the other from the back. They installed a rod in her back and had to move organs. All that work compromised her lymph system, especially on her left side. She couldn’t survive without the surgery as her scoliosis was compressing on her lungs and heart. She is amazing now. Walks straight even though she needs a walker. She’s had both hips replaced and something else (shoulder? knee? can’t remember which).

  4. Enjoyed the story. Pretty high price to pay for an excuse I would say. Those folks ought to be ashamed.

  5. I did not see that coming (the comments from the peanut gallery) and I expect you did not either. How mortifying!

  6. So I guess the other potential jurors thought you were making it up?! I’ve served twice. I should write about the first because it was the most interesting. Admittedly, I tried to wiggle my way out of jury duty a couple of times. I actually got called in three times in a row, one each for state, city and county cases. At the time I was an applicant for a job and was afraid I wouldn’t get it if I had to serve. I did get excused twice but (embarrassed to admit this, probably for my bad attitude). The third time I had the job on my pocket so I didn’t offer any excuse. I’m older and wiser now. Still I cringe when I recall how immature I was back then 😬.

  7. Those people who made the comments about your “excuse” probably wouldn’t be good jurors if they are scrambling for fake reasons to get out of jury duty. Puts their honesty in question before they even begin.

    • I think a lot of those people didn’t exactly have fake reasons, but it would put them out to serve. So yes they had kids and jobs to worry about. But yes they probably take off work when they have a hangover or their kid is off school. And they probably have a friend who COULD take the kids for a week after school. So they exaggerated, I am guessing.

  8. Great story, Luanne – except for your discomfort, of course…
    But I love that everyone applauded it!!
    You totally rock.

    • Hahaha. I’m not sure I love it. I really don’t know how it makes me feel, weirdly. I love how all of you have such different reactions to it. I think maybe I have conflicted feelings about it. In some ways I think they were jerks, but in other ways I felt a little comforted by their reaction. Better than silence as I walked out alone, think.

  9. Hi, Perry!
    It is interesting how people view jury duty, and so strange (to me) that people thought it was OK to say that out loud, even if they were thinking it. I’m always afraid I’d be that one person holding out when the other jurors have made up their mind, and I don’t want to be a person responsible for having to decide on something that can affect another person so profoundly. I’ve been selected for a jury twice and seated in the box before being dismissed. Both were medical malpractice cases.

    • What does that mean that you were selected and then dismissed? It wasn’t part of the selection process that you were dismissed? I sat in on an amazing civil case a few years ago and watched the whole thing from beginning to end, including the whole jury selection process. Wow.
      My thought that the reaction to my excuse was a bit like mob mentality.

  10. Great story! I’ve been summoned twice and ended up being selected each time. They weren’t bad experiences, but I would rather have been doing something else. 😊

    • I think I would want you on the jury for my trial, Mark, so I can see why they would pick you. there must have been something positive about doing it? Maybe feeling you were really participating in our government and being responsible? Were you able to share about the cases afterward or not? That’s one thing I’m not sure about . . . .

  11. Hi Beautiful Perry!! What an experience! Our system is so much kinder, if there is a valid reason not to serve you write it, get it witnessed by a medical professional or employer depending on the reason and send it in. I’m sure there are people who play the system, but they wouldn’t be good jurors anyway. I’ve been called three times and had to opt out once due to teaching commitments. Here the waiting is minimal then we all file into a courtroom, sit in the public gallery and wait to hear our name called. We then walk forward and take a seat in the jury box. The legal people have the length of the walk to hear who you are and what you do and make a decision whether to challenge your seat on the jury. Once you are seated that’s it. Both times I got as far as walking into the jury box and lowering my backside to the bench to hear “Challenged!” Down and up I go and back I walk to my original place in the gallery. The last time it happened I got a laugh as I knew I was going to be challenged, so I walked fast, caught the defense by surprise and was almost seated as ‘teacher’ was announced and the challenge was roared out in haste. In that particular case the defense only let older mild looking ladies and younger men in – it was a rape case and it took a long time to get the jury panel selected. That was an education for me!

    • He is so beautiful :). Thank you for noticing (again hahaha). Yes, that does sound much kinder. After this event, I was able to get a doctor’s note and submit it by mail. They accepted that for a permanent “excuse,” unless I was cured and could ask to be put back on the jury rolls. I think they way they did it as I wrote above is not only embarrassing, but also makes “everyone” feel like they should try to get out of it. They want to be like everyone else. Does that make sense? I think they would get mainly the people with real problems if they did it by mail with a doctor’s note, etc.
      Yes, they do NOT want educators on the juries! That is the same in this country. There are certain “profiles” they are usually not interested in. One being jobs that are related to what the case is about, for instance.
      You were a real wise guy to go fast when you knew you would be challenged hahaha. I can just see you and then turning around and winking at everyone.

      • Yes, I can understand that many of the comments weren’t really meant – just running with the herd as we say down here. Professional independent women are always challenged I’ve found (2/2 times) We are a bit of a danger to the status quo in so many ways. I enjoyed my little challenge – but was actually really relieved when I lost it. I would probably have been the crazy lady yelling ‘Hang him!’ – or worse 🙂 Yes, Perry IS beautiful!!

  12. I’ve been summoned several times, but haven’t been selected to serve on jury. My job with the police department could have something to do with it, as all of the cases were drug related. I think it’s disgraceful that people will lie to get out of serving. If I were a criminal, I would want someone like that deciding my fate.

    • Um, yes, I think your job could have a lot to do with you not being selected!!!! They avoid police peoples and educators and others they feel will be biased one way or another.

  13. Wow, Luanne, I had no idea that your condition was so severe! That sounds difficult. The jury service would have been brutal! I am one who likes to be on juries, but due to chronic neck pain, I cannot manage it, though I have tried. My chiropractor wrote a letter for me after I had to have several adjustments just to get my neck in full working order again after my last jury service.

    • Haha, now you know part of the reason I wore ankle boots with my gown for the wedding! That and the reconstruction in the one foot.
      I know that you have had a lot of pain in your neck for many years now. Because that is part of the spine area, I can imagine that it’s excruciating at times. XO

  14. I love that people applauded when you were excused. It’s kind of a sad commentary on jury duty but makes for a good story. My experience was similar but different. I was called, with over 100 people, into the courtroom, where we were all sworn in. We were introduced to the attorneys and the defendant. Then the court clerk put all of our names into a box, kind of like a bingo caller, pulled out names randomly and those were the ones chosen to sit in the jury box and be asked questions by the attorneys. I kind of wanted to serve, I thought it would make great writing fodder. But, it was also sunny and in the high 60s that week, almost unheard of great weather for Alaska, and I didn’t want to miss out on our small slice of summer by sitting in a windowless room for perhaps weeks on end. So when my name wasn’t called and the 14 jurors were chosen, I was relieved to return to the sunny outdoors and hit the trails with my hubby and dog. And yet I keep thinking of that case, and whether than man was guilty or innocent, and if he would get a fair trail, and how much all of our preconceived notions influence our decisions even when we swear we are being impartial. So in a way I was disappointed to have not been selected. P.S. So sorry about your lymphedema (I had to copy and paste that–my spelling skills are so poor). It sounds pretty uncomfortable. Do you take a lot of breaks when you write? P.S.S. Perry! Adorable!

    • I can hardly blame you when there is so little weather like that in Alaska! What an unusual way to choose names. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Pre-computer, I guess hahaha. I really don’t know how I feel about people clapping. I am suspicious that many of them assumed I was making it up. That was disturbing. Or that they were so cavalier about the lymphedema, I guess. But they were also in the mindset of “we are in this together,” so they were definitely not antagonistic toward me, but rather “supportive,” at least in their minds. People is weird. That’s all. Yes, Perry is super adorable. I think his personality must show in his face.

  15. I would guess you would find out a lot about people and the characters they are by being on jury duty. I moved too often for them to find me. I don’t like our system here and I don’t like having to make excuses for why we can’t serve in that capacity. Most of us would if we could. People assume because we look well, we are. How wrong they can be.

  16. That’s a good story. Maybe you should edit a book of essays on jury duty. I was excused from jury duty on an April 1, 2008, minutes before I first met Phil. I don’t know why I was not picked. I think they simply had enough jurors.

    • That would be a fun book. Maybe you could put that together. 🙂 It’s obvious people have very different viewpoints on the subject, to begin with. 2008? Oh, it could be because of your doctorate. They do NOT like graduate education, especially in English and the like.

  17. Great story, and it’s TRUE, Luanne.

    Thank you for commenting on my blog today. It led me here, a good thing. You’re a great storyteller!

  18. There’s got to be somewhere you can submit that story! It even has a surprise ending. Hi Perry!

  19. Love the photo of baby (!) Perry. Our Problem Child, Mittens, seems to have turned a corner and is somewhat reduced in bulk these days … slightly, but sufficient that she is able to groom herself enough to cease proxy-grooming her forearm/paws, which she had done for a few months now. Yay! My daughter just stopped by after not seeing Mittens for a few weeks and confirmed she seems slightly less large. She’s always happy to plead for pats, so I’m happy she’s doing better. And congrats on your continued work, Luanne!

  20. Oh NO! I felt badly for you, sitting in that too-lit room with a bunch of strangers, waiting. I’ve done that, been there, and it’s not comfortable (those lights can trigger seizures also, as well as migraines and headaches – I’ve recently gotten new eyeglass lenses with a ‘tint’ put on that supposedly reduces the glare from that light – wonder if you’ve heard of this?) But then your bravery for telling the judge about your condition of lymphedema, and how the rest of the potential jurors basically mocked that (in my view) by applauding you “coming up with a good excuse.” I was mortified for you – because you were being open and honest, and embarrassed by the others, who were so cynical and, really, not being good citizens. ;-0
    GREAT story. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Luanne, I have served on juries several times. I always find it interesting. However, you should get a medical waiver so that you don’t have to sit through all the waiting that is required before you can explain why you can’t serve.

  22. Haha! I have been excused every time. They do not want jurors who do/have done legal work.
    My husband has been called MANY times and has never had to go in.

  23. I’ve only sat on a jury once, in the late 90s. Hated it. It was a civil case, where a woman had been in a car accident because a man pulled his car out into the lane of oncoming traffic just around a curve, and the woman didn’t see him in time to stop or swerve. The man was totally at fault, but the men on the jury blamed her, because “women drivers”.
    I was called to sit in the 9th Circuit once. It would have been 4 days a week for 3 or 4 months. It was right after Cassie was born. I was excused, thank goodness!
    I’ve been called two other times – once was local court, before Cassie was born, and Jackson was in preschool. I appeared, but the case was settled before they even got to jury selection that day. (My intention was to tell them about my CRPS if my number was called.) I can’t remember what the other court was, but I had my doctor write a note about my CRPS.

    • CRPS would make it impossible to serve on a case that lasted any time at all, I would think. Wow, you do get called pretty often, Robyn! I hope the kids are doing well!

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