Why serving on the jury is so important
As the Kobe Bryant trial behemoth bears down upon us, you’ve likely wokenup in fear that you will be among the 999 Eagle County residents who willfind a jury summons in your mail box. While most people recognize thatjury duty is the bedrock of our legal system and hence, in a very realsense, the solid firmament of our most precious freedoms, generally, mostfolks shun their obligation to serve as jurors as if being offered up a dose of plague. The reasons are as varied as people themselves but most times, I think, the answer boils down to “I’ve got better things to do,” be it work, play ball with the kids, or shoot the kayak down through a narrows.
But jury duty is not only good for the country, it is good for the juror. Really. Jury duty is where the rubber of the Constitution hits the road. It is the Paul Revere, Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of education and the Scopes “Monkey” trials incarnate. It is where the substance of our laws undergoes its miraculous transmogrification from esoterica and theory to real flesh-and-blood reality. And to be a part of it is, well, good for the soul.
Admittedly, lawyers and their machinations can at times be dreadfully dull. Posturing and picking nits, however, is only the smallest part of the story. There is a real, breathing, ever-evolving law that in its application can, at times, be downright fascinating. Take it from me; I’ve been there. I know from whence I speak. And to be not only part of the process but the final arbiter of the dispute (or perhaps someone’s freedom) is both humbling and empowering. It is an aspect of responsibility — to a stranger, to a fellow citizen — that you will likely experience few times in your life. And that responsibility falls to the jurors.
We are a nation of judgmentalists. We have opinions on everything. Even things we know next to nothing about, things we’ve never thought about,things where our well of knowledge has passed through the often unreliableaquifer of the press and “spin”. And yet, as eager as we are to passjudgment on every last little item of minutiae, our appetite for realjudgment seems elusive. Maybe because real judgment is a more demanding calling. Or maybe just because we’re squeamish; we don’t want it on our conscience if we’re wrong. It’s not just jury duty. We seem to have lost our “civicness” entirely.
Blame the Internet, television, working mothers if you like. It hardlymatters. Within each of us lies the power to correct that. In our ownlittle way, making our own little contributions.
When I was a student, I struggled with the definition of democracy. Was it that everyone acting selfishly cumulated the collective will? Or was it, rather, each of us acting in the way we thought best for the nation as a whole the responsibility of us each as citizens? I’ll leave that to your own internal struggle. What I do know is this, if no one comes to the dance, there can be no dancing. And if there is no dancing, the band goes home.
Democracy is like that. It takes participation. And if no one shows up to participate… Well, draw your own conclusions. I am certainly not the first to expound that democracy is a unique privilege and that we as a nation have grown fat, happy and secure on a diet of it. But democracy cannot be left to others to nurture. It requires by its very definition, a little fertilization of us all.
Is the system perfect? By no means. What, I ask, is perfect? And in a democracy, where every differing opinion may be freely and often loudly expressed, there is likely to be more cacophony and less perfection than in towing narrow party lines. But therein lies the beauty. Democracy gives each person voice. And if you feel your voice is not being heard, ask yourself if you are raising it, or simply grumbling in your silence and inaction. Jury duty is a mouthpiece. It is an opportunity. It is
See Robbins, page A22
where justice is most times worked (although there are, admittedly, too many grievous miscarriages) and where democracy is exercised.
The truly cool thing about jury duty is how people rise to the occasion. How most times it makes them as good as they can be or even better than themselves. Despite initial grumbling and the “why me”s of being dragged off in metaphorical chains to jury duty, most jurors take their station seriously, stay both awake and alert during the proceedings, and render what is most times, thoughtful and appropriate justice. And most, at least to my experience, leave feeling richer for the experience and more fulfilled as citizens. There is something gratifying in seeing a thing work the way that it’s supposed to with the bonus of discharging a civic duty and, in your own little way, bettering the process and renewing it.
And there is a take home lesson from jury duty. Think about how much better our everyday lives might be it we paid attention, listened carefully, did not jump to conclusions and took the justice we meted out and the judgements we arrived at more seriously and with more compassion.
I wasn’t kidding. Jury duty is good for you and for the country. So when you’re called ” are you listening Eagle County? ” sublimate your own concerns and affairs for a day or two, or however long it takes. I think you’ll find yourself renewed and reinvested in this system that, although less than perfect, functions with profound skill, earnestness and alacrity.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be reached at (970) 926-4461, or at email@example.com.