Last fall, I was summoned for Federal jury duty, a trial they estimated would last 4-6 weeks, and I wrote a letter begging off because of IVF/pregnancy. I was excused and thought no more about it.
Unfortunately, then things went all Final Destination on me. In that movie, teens who cheat Death are hunted down by it one by one in increasingly gruesome ways. Turns out Jury Duty takes after Death in this respect. It will not be thwarted.
Jury Duty first tried to get to me through my family, summoning Sandy, who had never, ever been called before, for the week of Ezra’s due date. He wrote his letter, and got excused. Jury Duty was furious.
Having tried its regular tricks, Jury Duty went for the big guns: Grand Jury. Grand Jury, which meets for a full month. I did my research, and Illinois law recognizes full-time caregivers as exempt from jury duty, so they couldn’t force me to put Ezra in daycare or something crazy. But you aren’t allowed to write a letter asking to be excused from Grand Jury. You have to go down to the Criminal Court at 26th and California and get excused in person.
So Monday morning, Ezra and I went to court. At every stopping point on my way to the Grand Jury check-in, I would find someone to whom I could point at the stroller and say “I have a baby!” expecting that I would find the magic person who would respond, “Oh, you have a baby? You can go home!” Instead, it was like I was saying “I have a down jacket!” or “I’m reading Twilight!” The clerk or guard or whoever would look at me, look at the stroller, and wonder why I was sharing this incredibly boring and irrelevant detail. “OK,” they’d say. “Go sit over there with everyone else.” My personal favorite of these exchanges was with the guard seated in front of a big family-friendly sign reading “SEX CRIMES – HOMICIDE.”
At least Grand Jury does its best to make the experience of waiting half a day to find out if you’ve lost the next whole month of your life somewhat pleasant. The room was brightly lit and carpeted, and notably free of sullen guards who might have frowned on my brilliant plan to take Ezra off to the side and set up a blanket for him on the floor so he could play. It wasn’t so different from a morning at home, except for the hundred strangers milling around and the fact that we couldn’t leave.
People seemed to really like having a baby in the jury room. He got lots of smiles, even when he started loudly sharing his thoughts on our criminal justice system (“ah-ooooooooh, wah wah wah, oooooooooooooo-ahahaha”). A few people talked to me, asking his name or how old he was. At one point, a guy in his 50s came and stood by our blanket outpost, talking to me and making faces at the baby. The man had this odd gem of wisdom about Ezra’s name: “Hmm… That’s a name you don’t hear very much. Like Hezekiah. Or Bertha.”
This was all fine, until he reached out his hand to my teething baby, who stuffed the whole thing in his mouth like a potentially flu-ridden cheeseburger. “How about you bite your toy instead of this stranger?” I suggested to Ezra, loosening his jaws from the man’s hand.
Later, a woman dropped by, saying “I just had to come see your little angel.” A mom herself, she did not put her hands in grabbing range, which calmed me down quite a bit. She god-blessed us and we continued our wait to be interviewed by the assistant state’s attorney to determine if we’d have to serve.
The interview itself was kind of anti-climactic. She asked me if I worked, and when I said I was a full-time mom, she asked if getting childcare for an entire month would be difficult or cost-prohibitive. Um, yes. That was about it. At around 12:30, one of the assistant state’s attorneys came back from meeting with the judge, and called the panel of jurors and alternates. And none of them were me and Ezra. An hour of aimless waiting later, we had our check for $17.20 in hand and were on our way home, civic duty discharged.
So, listen up, JURY DUTY. We’re done now. The circle is closed. Leave me and my family alone.