I had an interesting experience Monday as I was called for jury duty. It is our civic duty to be available to take part in the criminal justice system as part of living in a democracy. Some people can't stomach the thought of going through the entire process as it is long and drawn out, and as I learned, it can be tedious and time consuming. But I was rather excited because I grew up in a family with a law background (more on that later) and I've long hoped to be be on a jury. It is a random process, started by receiving a questionnaire in the mail, and after returning your information, your name is entered in a database and can be drawn from the rest of the population of our county. You then receive a summons in the mail with instructions to follow. IF your number is chosen randomly from all the people who have been sent a summons, you then are directed to report to the Hall of Justice (HOJ) early Monday morning.
I, along with hundreds of other civic minded citizens arrived at the HOJ promptly when doors opened at 7:30am on 9/16/2013. After clearing security, we were directed to the Central Jury Room, a generic area where more paperwork awaits. After completing that and watching a very mundane video about jury service, the waiting begins. Later, my name was called to enter one of three groups of fellow potential jurors, and then instructed to head upstairs to courtroom 202 where we would await (notice there is ALOT of waiting going on during this extended process) further instructions. I was assigned to the court of The Honorable Alex Renzi, a well respected NYS Supreme Court Justice. After the judge arrived in court, he thanked us for our service and patience and explained to us the whole process. We learned that he would be presiding over a murder trial for a crime that occured in 2004 at a hotel in Henrietta. He introduced us to the alleged defendant on trial, his attorney, the prosecutor representing the county's District Attorney's Office and then Judge Renzi read from a list of potential witnesses. I immediately knew that the odds of me joining this jury were pretty slim as I knew at least 4 of the people involved in the trial, including the good judge. a fine Assistant District Attorney named Pat Farrell who was prosecuting the case and two of the investigators from the Monroe Co. Sheriffs Office. Then the first of many breaks was called for, and we shuffled out of the courtroom.
With time to kill (not a play on words), I took the elevator up two floors to visit my uncle. You see my uncle Robert P. Kennedy was a NYS Supreme Court Justice before he passed in 1985. His portrait still hangs on the fourth floor of the HOJ. Hence my willingness to join the jury. After saying hi to "unc", I then noticed the name of another friend of mine on a courtroom door: Justice Thomas Moran. I've known Tom for many years, dating back to my days at college in Geneseo when he was the Livingston County Distict Attorney. He's a great man and friend. Noticing that court was in session, I entered courtroom 404 and sat and watched as Asst. District Attorney Perry Duckles did a wonderful summation of a murder trial that was going on. A court deputy noticed my JUROR sticker that I was wearing on my blazer, and promptly informed me that I wasn't allowed in the courtroom if I was on jury duty. Seeing how dumb I was, I quickly left, said goodbye to my uncle and returned to the second floor and my proper courtroom. (By the way, I learned this morning the criminal was convicted of a murder on Whitney St. in the city, and he was found guilty by a jury thanks to the hard work of Perry Duckles and the RPD.)
Judge Renzi then informed us that 21 names would be randomly pulled and seated in the jury box to be questioned for potential service. I, like the other 80 juror candidates quietly sat waiting to hear if I would get the invite to the box. Unfortunately I missed the first cut. I sat and listened as the judge, who has a great courtroom demeanor, asked the candidates questions, followed by the ADA Mr. Farrell. Then it was time for another break, this time for lunch. After about an hour-and-a-half, we returned for questioning by the defense attorney. Then, another break. Long story short, we returned to find out that only 5 of the potential 21 jurors would be allowed to join the jury. After they were sworn in and released for the day, the judge informed us that we would start the entire process again and continue until a full jury of 12 jurors and 2 alternates were confirmed. Long story short, after more possible jurors came and went, and more breaks, finally with about 25 people left to be called from, my name was called. I was happy to make it this far. After being seated in the box, I then had to inform the court that I knew some of the participants in the trial, and after thanking me for my patience, Judge Renzi released me from service. Boom! Like that, it was over. The jury service I had eagerly awaited, was over. No chance to listen to riveting testimony (at least that's how they make it seem on TV), no chance to analyze CSI or police evidence, no voting along with my fellow citizens on this man's fate in life. I was done, told I was good for another 8 years before I would be eligible for jury service again. Damn. I've wanted to be on a jury for a long time but honestly had to inform the court that I knew people involved and could possibly be biased because of my relationships. Leaving the HOJ, I at least felt like I gave it a good try to be a good American and do my civic duty. I even felt like that after paying for downtown parking (which is not included in jury duty). Back to work, and my day as a juror was in the rearview mirror, where justice is not blind!