Jury duty debate...

Behind The News
December 6, 2007 2:17:12 PM PST
Tonight the subject is jury duty. My jury duty. Or my short-lived jury duty.

And I'm thinking that there has to be a better way to fulfill your civic duty.

Not that I mind having enough time to read every word of every section of the newspaper, or being able to shut my eyes for 10 minutes (I hope I didn't snore!).

But what an inefficient way to run a courthouse. Hundreds of people, sitting quietly, reading or snoozing or surfing the web on their laptop or text messaging on BlackBerrys and cell phones.

Downtime isn't exactly my middle name, although there is no shortage of people who regularly suggest I try it once or twice before I cash it all in.

But you don't have to be a Harvard MBA to see that the way they organize jury service is not very efficient.

Oh I know it's better and more democratic than it used to be, when anyone who could string a complete sentence together would get an exemption.

Back then "jury of your peers" looked good in the textbooks, but in the real world it rarely existed in New York City.

Now it's different. As it should be.

Everyone serves. As they should.

But it's still problematic, as far as I'm concerned.

During my two days of waiting, they called two groups for possible duty. The first was 30 people, the other was 19. They then waited in another room to get questioned so their number could get parboiled down to jury size. The rest of us, scores of us, waited. Don't they know beforehand that the number of jurors called in as the pool is 10 or 15 times the number they will need? Hard to imagine they don't. Maybe that's the ratio the experts think they need just in case they can't find six impartial people for a civil trial, or 12 for a criminal proceeding.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I like doing my civic duty. Like talking to people who come up to me and ask about the news and Channel 7 and whether Liz Cho is as nice in person as she seems on the air.

I just wish I would have been put to work. I just wish I had been able to do my civic duty. But alas I was dismissed. Along with everyone else, after spending less than two days "serving."

Again, I'm not kvetchin, I'm just sayin'.

So, as long as I'm just sayin' -- allow me to make some suggestions. Perhaps rather than just waiting around, the people who show up as the jury pool can actually be put to work? Why not let them do something worthwhile? Why not give them something to do? Whether it's cleaning the bathrooms, or use the individual expertise to educate others, or participate in surveys or ... something, anything?

Or why not find out who has expertise in certain areas and get them to lead seminars? Or offer seminars on the criminal justice system. Something, anything.

At the beginning of the sessions, we watch a 20 minute or so video with the late Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer -- explaining the importance of jury duty. It's a very interesting educational video. And we who watched it got something out of it. Why not offer more of those?

I'm just sayin'.

I hope you can join us tonight at 11. We'll have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports.

And I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions about jury service. Feel free to email me at Bill.S.Ritter@ABC.Com, and let me know if I can use your name with your suggestion.