Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Speaking, Perhaps ...

On Thursday, I'll be a panelist at the annual meeting of the Pasadena Playhouse District. The business group has asked me to contribute to a discussion on (what else?) the economy and how small businesses can survive the storm.

I have to add a provision here: I'll be a panelist in Pasadena Thursday morning ... IF I'm not downtown at Los Angeles Superior Court doing jury duty. I've been on hold all week with the threat of jury duty hanging over my head, vanishing only after my 5 p.m. call to the automated juror hotline.

So far, I've postponed (and re-called) three interviews, rescheduled a hospital visit to a dear friend undergoing cancer treatment at City of Hope and will have to leave the Playhouse District hanging until Wednesday after 5.

I thought for sure I'd be asked to report on Monday. Nope. Tuesday is Cesar Chavez day, a court holiday. I've already been told not to report on Wednesday. That means Thursday is my most-likely-to-serve day (many courtrooms do procedural motions on Fridays).

In the past, because I was self-employed and had young children at home, I was always able to send in my hardship excuse by mail. The rules changed a few years ago, and now even small business owners and the self-employed (who don't get paid for jury duty) have to report on their prescribed day.

The last time I was downtown, a judge presiding over a complex civil trial swore me in under oath and made me explain to the entire courtroom why I couldn't afford to take weeks away from earning a living. "Doesn't your husband work?" he demanded. "Can't you do your interviews after hours or on the weekends?"

In the end, the judge excused me and several others who testified that their livelihoods would be at risk. But his sneering demeanor was contemptuous, as if he were letting off a bunch of slackers who didn't appreciate the importance of American jurisprudence!

How about you? Have you done jury duty lately? If you're self-employed, did the court understand that it would be a hardship for you to serve?

2 comments:

  1. Hey Karen,

    I have a funny story along these lines so I thought I'd post. A few years ago I was called in for jury duty and several people in the pool requested to be excused due to hardship. The judge didn't seem rude, but boy was he persistent. One woman said that her employer only paid for two days of service so it would be difficult to serve on a two-week long trial. The judge asked who her employer was. When she replied that she worked for a law office the judge about hit the roof! He asked her for the name of the firm and called them on the lunch break. After lunch he informed her that he had worked it out so that she could serve with full pay. He finished with a rant about people who rely on the legal system for a living not wanting to contribute.

    As to your original question, the courts do seem suspicious of all hardship claims. In the two jury selection processes I've experienced the judges always grilled the people who claimed hardship. I think they assume that people will say anything to get out of jury duty. This attitude makes them doubt the truth of any hardship claim.

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  2. That's hilarious re the law firm that didn't support the courts! I'd love to have overheard that phone call. ;-)

    Yes, "suspicious" is a good word for it. I have had people advise me to simply declare that I could not be fair to both sides if serving as a juror. That is a "sure-fire way" to get out of serving, they say.

    However, I simply can't do that. I would try to be fair and would take jury duty seriously and I can't/would not lie about that.

    It's just that taking many days away from work, for a self-employed person, is pretty nigh on impossible. Even gearing up for vacations once or twice a year is an ordeal - and those are planned months in advance!

    Anyway, you know what I'm talking about, Paula. I just hope the judge is as understanding (assuming I get called in eventually).

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