Recently, writer Ian Brown had a piece in the Globe and Mail about his experience when summoned for jury duty in Toronto. In it he recounted how jury duty is fundamental to our society -- something that can be taxing, but is a duty, and a necessity for how we function as a civilized law and order society. That sort of thing.
I think he said there were something like 150 jury cases a year in Toronto, which doesn't seem like that many to me, but then I suppose most cases are resolved by a judge alone. As I recall, Brown was a little sheepish about wanting to be excused from jury duty -- as so many are -- because his hearing wasn't all it should be (believe me, I know), but the female judge was not sympathetic. Brown sighed and was resigned to his fate
While most of us accept that a jury of our peers is a vital aspect of our judicial system, it can also be a nuisance or inconvenience that many struggle -- writhe, really -- to avoid, or be excused from. Not easy unless you have a pretty solid excuse.
This month my name came up. I got a letter informing me that I was to appear for jury selection and that I should be prepared for a trial that could last 12 to 15 weeks. I shuddered. This was a civic duty, and for the first 11 days I'd get no pay, longer than that I'd get $40 a day, and over 50 days, I'd get $100 a day.
My employer had no obligation to pay me during my sojourn, but I'd be surprised if the Sun didn't pick up the pay difference for any employee doing his/her duty.
I envisioned myself enduring something like the 2007 Conrad Black trial in Chicago, where sport among us bored reporters was keeping track of jurors who tended to doze off or became hopelessly distracted.
Included in my summons to jury duty was a questionnaire to fill out, which I was to present on the given day. Since I intend to be out of the country for much of February, the prospect of a 12 to 15 week-trial was disconcerting.
Rather that wait until the given day, I mailed my questionnaire to the Sheriff's Office, intending to phone the following week and explain my predicament. I was told that phoning was a waste of time because everyone tried to get excused that way. In my covering letter, I explained that I planned to be away, but that I agreed being a juror was a civic responsibility, and could I postpone it until, say, March? I didn't say that I was under the erroneous impression that journalists were automatically excused from jury duty, even though I'm not sure there are many journalists I'd want deciding my fate if I were caught trying to strangle the editor-in-chief.
The questionnaire wanted to know if I had ever been charged with an offense, or if I knew anyone, family or otherwise, who had been thus charged, which might colour my judgment.
I was reasonably sure I could be objective, and answered the question.
I said I had been an acquaintance and had maintained contact with [serial killer] Clifford Olson for over 20 years; that I considered myself a friend of Leonard Peltier who was serving a life for the murder of two FBI agents; and I was a friend of the late Laurie ["Bambi"] Bembenk who had been convicted of murder. I didn't add that I had once been charged under the Official Secrets Act. That seemed like gilding the lily.
Anyway I mailed my letter on Tuesday, Jan. 3, and two days later my wife got a phone call from the Sheriff's Office saying thanks a lot, but they didn't want me on a jury. I gather such a quick response verges on unique.
I wonder if I'll be summoned in March? Meanwhile, eat you heart out Ian Brown.