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Just when you have time for jury service

Several years ago, the Orange County Clerk summoned me for jury service. Nothing relieves a lawyer from the obligation. Judges tell prospective jurors that jury service is the only compulsory obligation of citizenship.

I appeared along with about one hundred other people. Apparently, the state scheduled a serious case and expected a lengthy trial. The longer the anticipated trial, the more frequent and extensive the excuses for avoiding jury service.

We gathered in the jury assembly room where a number of people stood to watch the introductory video because the seats were filled. We chatted with people sitting nearby. I caught up with an old friend. The room got warm and felt crowded.

At least a half hour after the expected starting time, a bailiff led us to the courtroom. We sat close together in seats designated for courtroom observers.

After introducing himself, the parties, and the lawyers, the judge announced that the driving while impaired case scheduled for trial would last about a day.

There was a collective sigh of relief.

In just over an hour, the parties selected a group of twelve jurors and one alternate. The rest of us were released with the Court’s thanks. I never made it to the jury box for questioning.

No doubt, the misdemeanor charge and anticipated length of the trial made jury selection much easier. A more serious case or a lengthier trial would have created employment concerns, interfered with scheduled vacations, and raised emotional issues that make jury selection arduous.

I have a hard time imagining participating in that process right now. My understanding of the corona virus that causes COVID-19 is that a room overstuffed with prospective jurors in the basement of the courthouse could qualify as a "superspreader" event.

Not surprisingly, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an order this week delaying jury trials in North Carolina through September.

What’s more, her order requires us to develop a plan to resume jury trials safely. That’s necessary, especially in criminal cases where some people are held in jail awaiting trial.

The delays are understandable. The turmoil of the last few months may have freed up more time to exercise, watch Netflix, and drink beer. Given the circumstances, however, most won’t feel comfortable serving as jurors until we develop a plan to serve safely.

And, our system doesn’t work without jurors.

In the meantime, we continue to represent people accused of criminal offenses and professional misconduct who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best possible results and back to leading productive lives.

Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.


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