Everyone at some point gets that dreaded little letter in the mail, with two words stamped on the front in unmistakable red letters: JURY SUMMONS. Having never been called to serve jury duty until this past month, a string of expletives left my mouth when I found that little love note from Orleans Parish in the mailbox. It couldn’t have come at a worse time: October is absolutely the busiest month of the year for me. There’s New Orleans Fashion Week to attend, Halloween costumes to sew, and given I work in a retail store that sells costumes, we are really damn busy. Like “curl into the fetal position under the bathroom sink after the shift” type of busy. But instead of trying to lie and weasel my way out of it, I chalked it up to my civic duty, sucked it up, and went.
I served on criminal court, located on Tulane Ave. and South Broad. The parking situation was a bit perplexing at first, but there are two pay parking lots you can park in. You’ll get a free pass for the month, so don’t worry about coughing up money for that. Give yourself extra time to find the lot: if you’re coming from Uptown, take Napoleon. It turns into Broad, and the parking lot will be to your immediate right after the bridge. Opt to park in the lot- it’s a $400 tow if you park illegally.
With your juror badge, there is a side door on Broad so you don’t have to go through the main entrance. I didn’t realize this until my second day serving, and when a trial is going on, the metal detector line can get chaotic with people trying to go through two at a time. TSA this ain’t. I also had a sketch woman offer to “hold” my cell phone for $2. Don’t fall for it: as a juror you can bring your cell phone in with you.
HOW IT WORKS
There are 12 sessions of court, and just like watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, the countdown is about the most exciting thing of the day. The only sure bet for going home is once the count goes down to zero everyone is dismissed for the day. It’s basically a waiting game of whether or not you’ll get called in for jury selection. If you don’t get picked, you might get sent home, or have to stay depending on the needs of the judges. If you aren’t selected you usually get out around lunch time. I went in for questioning with the lawyers for two trials but wasn’t selected either time. One day I got out at 4:30, so free up your schedule in case you’re there longer. (I’ve got one day left to serve- cross y’all’s fingers for me.) As far as what to say to not get picked, I have no idea. Some lawyers will ask what your occupation is, others won’t. The questions also vary from case to case.
SCHEDULING CONFLICTS/MISSING WORK
Switching days is pretty easy. I had an overnight trip to Gulfport planned in advance, so I was able to reschedule one of my Thursdays. Notice I said reschedule- you still have to make up days missed. If necessary, get an attendance form to prove to your employer you had work. Or just live tweet all of the fun you’re not having in the waiting room if they don’t believe you went.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
Every day you’ll get there at 9 a.m. and wait. And wait. And wait. Stroll in at 11 a.m. and you’ll have to come back and serve another full day.
The seats are rather uncomfortable, there are blaring TV screens that serve more of a distraction than form of entertainment. If you want absolute silence, there’s a quiet room with no television. You are allowed to have phones and laptops in the waiting room, but the wifi is spotty and so is cell phone reception. I went old school and brought magazines and books. You’re free to go outside, but you have to sign out in case your name gets called. Fail to report for jury selection and you risk contempt of court.
Inevitably you’re going to get hungry. Sitting around doing nothing is hard work. You can bring snacks, and there is a fridge and microwave if you’re so inclined but just like an airport, liquids are forbidden. There’s also a café in the courthouse, but I opted for Theo’s and Juan’s Flying Burrito on Canal Street during my hour lunch breaks instead. If selected for a trial, you will get fed but I wouldn’t wait for that.
THAT’S A WRAP
Once you’ve served, you’ll get a certificate of completion that will get you out of serving for two years if you are summoned again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to federal. Damn it.
For Civil Court, check out the Orleans Parish FAQ here http://www.orleanscdc.com/juryfaq.html
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.