Hardly a month goes by that I do not receive a phone call from someone I know or someone who thinks they know me asking me to tell them how to get out of jury duty. The story is always the same – they are too busy and cannot afford to waste their time sitting around the courthouse all day when they probably would not be selected to serve anyway.
So too, my answer is always the same, and it is not the one they were hoping to hear. The short answer is that they should answer the Court’s summons and do their civic duty. Usually the short answer is followed by a long lecture about the reason why they should serve.
In a day when every politician, talk show host, TV commentator and political crackpot tries to tell us what the Founding Fathers intended for us to do or believe, one only has to look to the literal language of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights appended thereto to realize that Mr. Madison, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Adams and Mr. Franklin, et al. believed that the right to trial by jury was so fundamental and precious to a democratic society that it was worth launching a revolution over, worth dying for and worth protecting in our most important founding document.
With all its imperfections, trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases has served this country well for over 200 years and has made our justice system the envy of the world. It is democracy in its simplest and purest form. When disputes arise between citizens or between citizens and their government, those disputes are decided by small groups of fellow citizens, chosen at random, to listen to the evidence and vote on who is right and who is wrong and on what should be done to insure that justice is served.
The jury system levels the playing field between the rich and the poor and between the powerful and the vulnerable. It allows ordinary citizens, by their verdicts, to establish the standard of conduct and responsibility to be expected in their own community, and in so doing, influences the policies and decisions of the government, the business community, the professions and the population as a whole.
It should come as no surprise that the right to trial by jury does not exist in places like Russia, China, Syria, or Iran. It also should come as no surprise that this precious right is under attack in our own country by powerful interest groups on behalf of certain business interests or professional groups who would love to be exempt from responsibility for the consequences of their conduct. Every day these groups chip away at this precious right with sophisticated propaganda, well-financed lobby efforts and so-called lawsuit reform legislation.
The way to fight these efforts is by casting educated and informed votes at the ballot box and by performing our civic duty to show up at the courthouse for jury service when called rather than look for excuses not to serve. My good friend, Judge Jim Ammerman, in Marshall, Texas begins every trial by thanking the jury panel for being there and informing them that, in his opinion, answering the call to jury duty is second only to those who answer the call to military duty and those who provide us with police and fire protection. I am confident that the Founding Fathers would agree.