This is My Brain on Jury Duty
Debbie Galant

My only stint on jury duty was in the early 1990s. I lived in Union County at the time so I went to the courthouse in Elizabeth. It was early August and the THI was breaking some kind of a record. We gathered in a partially-air conditioned assembly room where a bailiff came in and lectured us against talking or socializing with anyone: not our fellow prospective jurors and certainly not someone we happened to encounter walking the hallways. (This was before common use of cellphones and personal devices.)

It was a 4-day stint, Tuesday through Friday, unless you were empaneled, at which point the sky was the limit. I was torn between worrying I was going to get press-ganged into a weeks long trial and hoping I would be chosen for one of those “trial of the centuries” that come along every decade or so. (This was no fantasy: the John List multiple murder trial had been held in Elizabeth barely a year earlier.)

On Wednesday the brutal heat had me wondering whether I could get away with wearing shorts to the courthouse but decided at the last moment that would be demeaning to the process of justice. Just as well as some of us were called into a courtroom for possible selection and one young man was wearing shorts. The judge halted proceedings to lecture the guy on proper decorum while the rest of us sat still with that grim schadenfreude that comes from watching someone else get chewed out for behavior we had actually contemplated.

The process continued as ajury was chosen for a young black defendant who was accused of robbing a McDonalds of just enough money to escalate matters from a charge of petty larceny to actual robbery. Hardly the crime of the century. In any event, when the defendant’s attorney found out I was a small business owner I was excused.

We returned on Thursday to be told that if no further trials were scheduled by noon we would not have to return on Friday. Such was the case. My main memory is of claustrophobia. We were limited to certain parts of the building and at lunch with temps of 100° you couldn’t go outside either. It remains the gold standard of boredom for me to this day.

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