Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jury Duty

The letter arrived weeks ago. Rather than a friendly correspondence from a long lost acquaintance, it was an order from the court. I was to appear at District Court, Room 6 at the Caldwell County Courthouse on October 6, because my name had been selected at random for that great American process called jury duty. My third time, by the way.

I appeared as instructed, after going through a security check at the entrance. No, my cell phone was not with me, per their instructions. No I have no firearms or other weapons, nor do I ever.

With the other fifty or sixty potential jurors, I waited on the hard courtroom benches (at church we call them pews) for proceedings to begin. We watched a training video about the court system that I found fascinating. This was jury service, not jury duty, and by the end, when we were all sworn in, I was even more proud to be an American. After a roll call with far too many citizens being AWOL, we sat and waited for the bailiff to escort us to the main courtroom.

We filed into a larger room where the benches were now rows of ancient (maybe from the fifties) wooden individual seats. Picture Perry Mason courtroom. No, picture To Kill a Mockingbird courtroom.

The judge's first order of business was to select a replacement juror to sit on the Grand Jury and fill out a term for a juror who could no longer serve due to health reasons. A name was chosen at random from our pool of names. The person next to me was the lottery winner.

"Step forward." Ominous words in a courtroom.

She placed her left hand on a Bible and raised her right hand and again swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and of the great state of North Carolina. The judge then instructed her on her duties. Service. And we all listened. And learned. And realized how involved and intricate our system really is.

The rest of us were dismissed and told to call back for further instructions later in the day. In the end we were not needed, as the cases up for trial had all been settled. Thus ended my service.

But it didn't end my interest in the Grand Jury proceedings. Instead it reminded me of one part of my Lessons Learned book, the part where the Grand Jury inspected the county schools. One of the responsibilities, the judge pointed out in his lecture this week to us all, was to inspect public properties and report on their conditions. Yes, the Grand Jury does more than make indictments for prosecution (or not). Twice I discussed it in my book:
  • One of the duties defined in the handbook of the Grand Jury of the North Carolina Superior Court is to inspect state and county owned buildings and agencies to “determine the manner in which individuals in charge have carried out their duties to the state.” A Grand Jury that convened in the fall of 1954 inspected each school facility throughout the county and found only two substandard situations. One was at the black school in the Glen Alpine city system, the other at Pilot Mountain. (page 109)

We, the Grand Jury, have visited all schools in the county systems and found in most instances the buildings and grounds to be well kept, alleviating minor repairs except for the following schools: Pilot Mountain School—lighting facilities very inadequate and find that there is no heat in the auditorium. Also window shades are needed throughout the building...

—Judge J. A. Rousseau, 16th Judicial District of the Superior Court. “Report of the Grand Jury, December 15, 1954”  (page 109-110)

  • A Burke County Grand Jury convened in March 1968 to survey the county public facilities, including the courthouse, jail, and schools. It recommended replacing old dangerous school buildings immediately. To accomplish this, the county commissioners proposed an educational bond issue for the November election. (page 198)

When I wrote those words in the book, I didn't think about the reality that one day I would be a bit closer to the process. A bit, but enough to remind me that the system still goes on.

Catch of the day,


1 comment:

  1. Insightful as always. You have a unique way of weaving the past with the present. I guess that's why folks call you a "story catcher." Good job!