The concept of trial and judgment by one’s peers dates back to 1215 and the Magna Carta, where the fiat of king’s rule was challenged. At the time the definition of what constituted one’s peers was pretty clean cut: a wealthy land Baron. Today, the strata of peer definition is a little more complicated. In California, or at least in Orange County, we attempt to select a jury of peers by a process that resulted in Mary travelling to Santa Ana at 6:30 AM to sit in a large room with 300 other people, similarly summoned, they spend literally the whole day, waiting to be called, interviewed, and potentially asked to sit in a panel for as many days as required to hear testimony and make judgment on some infraction of law.
The rules governing who gets called and how often have changed little in the thirty some years I have lived in Orange County. Names are chosen at random from DMV records or voting records; frequency is supposedly no oftener than eighteen months, which was Mary’s most recent interval, but I have only been called three times in thirty years, possibly attributable to the fact I still wear a suit and my Nixon pin when I show up. Excuses are liberally given for planned vacations, employment that precludes absence, or military service, but result in an accelerated recall for duty.
Mary was told that only Santa Ana still uses juries; other courts, such as Laguna Niguel, Westminster, Newport and Laguna Beach now are judges only. The last jury she sat on was a murder trial that had two previous mistrials. My last duty was a property dispute. Compensation only comes from actual assignment to a jury but is so insignificant that many decline even if they are not paid by an employer.
The thing I find most troubling about the process is its inefficiency. When I was last called I was given a group number and could call in to see whether I would even have to appear. That option seems to have disappeared. One would think that in this day when virtually everyone has access to a Smart Phone that a selection system could be devised that would virtually eliminate the need for a cattle call appearance at a court house. Almost all of my business meetings are now held by conference calls, some with virtual, visual presence. Even the actual interview process could be remote, including seeing how a prospective jury member reacts to questioning.
It’s not so much the cost to taxpayers by the process as it is the loss of productivity. Perhaps, instead of bringing reading material, or even laptops or tablets to do some work while waiting, there could be a collective process of food distribution or filing court documents: something that would gainfully use the labor force gathered at the court house.
While I don’t really expect a change, just venting about this makes me feel better. I wonder if other states have addressed and improved the process.
Vacation took me away from my regular schedule of posts. I have in mind a timely one for next time, the passing of a true hero at the age of 97: Louis Zamperini. Even if you are familiar with his story, you may find some twists in my post. Please look for it in about a week.