I’m serving on a jury this week in a Marion County civil court case that I can’t tell you a thing about—even though I’d really, really like to.
It has wreaked a bit of havoc on my week—mostly because of my poor planning. And the truth is, I wasn’t that worried about scheduling around it. Conventional wisdom says that attorneys don’t put journalists on their juries. We can be overly skeptical, critical and frustrated by the way someone else asks questions.
But on Monday, after a brief wait in the Assembly Room of the City-County Building and then a host of questions from attorneys trying to determine whether potential jurors could be fair, I was among seven (six jurors and an alternate) sworn in to hear a case that, again, I can’t talk about. It’s killing me really.
But I can tell you a little about the experience of being a juror (although I’m writing this in advance of actually having to sort out what I think will be a difficult judgment).
First, jury service is truly a civic duty. I believe that to my core, despite my fretting about telling a good friend I couldn’t help her pick out her wedding dress on Monday and telling the IBJ publisher I wouldn’t be able to moderate a long-planned event on Thursday. I know our system of justice is dependent on plaintiffs and defendants having their day in court, with the right to have their case considered by their peers. It’s a backbone of our democracy.
But second, jury service is an incredible learning experience. I have spent many hours covering court hearings and court decisions. Still, seeing a trial from the perspective of a juror opens an entirely different window into the process. And I have been impressed—with the jury coordinators, attorneys, the judge and especially the bailiff, the person the jury spends the most time talking with and who has been especially kind and helpful.
And, finally, I’m really enjoying my smart and savvy fellow jurors. It’s a group that is alarmingly non-diverse racially. In Marion County—where 28% of residents are Black and 11% are Hispanic—it’s unfathomable that a jury would be all-white, but my group is just that. I promise to write more on that in a future column, once I’ve had the opportunity to do some research.
But in other ways, our group is quite diverse. There are three jurors who are 30 and under—a debt collector, a bank examiner and a university maintenance worker. Three of us are over 50—me, a man who works in finance at a company that makes bike tires and one who is retired from working for the U.S. Department of Defense. In between, we have an IT specialist who works at a fast-growing tech firm.
Each juror is paying close attention to the case, taking notes and asking questions. (Yes! Jurors in Indiana can submit questions for witnesses, which the judge will determine whether to ask.) We are juggling big binders of evidence (COVID at least means there is a seat between each of us, which I’m using almost like a table).
At this writing, we’re a couple of days from having to render a verdict, which will be difficult. But without a doubt, the experience has been well worth the inconveniences and frustrations. So, the next time you receive a jury-service notice, try to think of it less as an annoyance and more as an opportunity to perform a duty key to our democracy. It’s worth your time.•
Weidenbener is editor of IBJ.