This is only about the 35th jury summons I have received from the State of Iowa, but it was the first time I was physically able to go for duty. The previous times I either lived in France or had a fresh baby to nurse, or once, very small children who out-numbered me five-to-one.
It did not go down quite the way I had expected. In fact, the whole experience was such that I came home and wrote a letter, at my kids' request. Here it is, it will be sent tomorrow. Note, that I was rather excited about the chance to be on a jury and the educational opportunities I thought it could afford us all.
Madame the Court Administrator,
I had an unfortunate experience this morning that I wish to relate. I was summoned for jury duty, and though there were some obstacles, as for anyone in this situation, I decided to make the best of it and make it a positive, educational experience for my family. I was upbeat about serving as a juror, after years of living abroad and nursing babies had kept me from the many other times I'd been called to jury duty.
We have homeschooled for many years, and we have become experts at learning in diverse situations. As my children's teacher, I am legally obliged to provide a certain number of days of instruction per year, and the summons came in the middle of a school semester. Nevertheless, we were determined to make a success of the endeavor.
I spent many hours preparing curriculum and instructing the children in our court system, our government, and the importance of jury duty as a service to others; insuring that you also, would have the right to a fair trial should you ever be brought to court as a defendant. I coached the kids in proper courtroom etiquette, taken from the State of New York's website for children appearing in court. Citing the Supreme Court’s decision of 1/20/2010 as well as the 1st and 6th amendments, making jury selection a part of the trial and thus public, I believed anyone had a right to be at this part of the proceedings, as they would be able to attend any open trial.
From 2nd grade to 12th, each of my children/students had their own level of lessons and preparation. This morning they were each given a folder with activities pertaining to justice, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the courtroom, a book and extra worksheets, and other things to keep them busy. I thought this would be a good opportunity to see justice in action, a real life civics day.
We arrived on the 3rd floor of the courthouse this morning to report for duty, at 7:40am, so I would have plenty of time to settle them and be where I needed to be.
Upon exiting the elevator I was instantly, and I do mean instantly, before asking my name or my juror number, told; “Are those your children? They can’t be here!” I politely inquired whether the proceedings were not public and whether my children were not, as citizens and students, allowed to observe.
I was met with a rude, abrupt attitude and treatment, as though I were, in fact, the defendant and guilty of some enormous breach of the law. The county employee said she would ask the judge to come and speak to me if I wished. I did, and so we sat and stood, the five of us, around a bench in the hallway for the next hour.
Finally, this same person returned, minus a judge, but with an answer; no. The children were not to remain. I mentioned that my daughter was eighteen and therefore an adult and could accompany her three siblings as such. Maybe they could quietly observe one of the five trials taking place that day? I was then told, in loud tones and in front of a hallway full of people waiting to check in; “I’ll go tell the judge that you want to argue!” She stalked off without allowing me to answer.
Upon her return, and denial of the request for them to stay and observe with their sister, I asked if it would be O.K. for them to wait on the bench in the hallway. I did not know what to do with them. I was told the following; “If she’s eighteen, she can watch them at home.” (But she has her own studies and college prep to do at home.) “We give you four week’s notice so that you can make preparations before for your children.” (I did make preparations, as evidenced in paragraph two.) and “No, they can’t stay, they cannot stay anywhere if you are on jury duty. They have to go, now. Are you leaving to take them home or is she?”
I would stay, but I made one last request to let them peep inside a real courtroom, for one second, because they were anxious to see what was actually inside. Again, abruptly and rudely denied, with the explanation; "There are jurors inside. There is a movie playing. We are preparing them now for selection! Leave!" Which was really my point, I wanted them to see the film and to watch, first hand, how the system worked. (Besides, they were dressed up and presentable for once at 8 in the morning.)
My daughter drove them home to wait for me. And I walked into the courtroom, where people were still entering to find a seat and where the informative film did not commence for another 20 minutes. I spent the next hour in agony. First over the safety of my family. We have a rule in our house; one kid does not drive more than one other kid at a time. There was my oldest, with three of her siblings and not a great sense of direction. Second,what sort of lessons had they taken away with them? Probably not the kind I originally had in mind this morning. Third, I truly did not know, how I would reconcile conflicting civic duties; on one hand, jury duty, on the other, being the only person authorized to provide the required 148 days of instruction that needed to happen before the end of May. I wanted to find a way to do both, and that might mean a day or week of school break, home with their father, but what if it was a trial that went on for 3 or 4 weeks? In the end, the defendant did not appear for her trial, so our room's jurors were released.
I returned home, to children who were still flabbergasted by the rudeness of one employee. There was nothing polite about the way my children saw their mother treated, in what they had learned was a place of justice, a concept which I hoped to further instill in them this day. Clearly, the court system is not meant to be day care. I was not expecting anything of the sort. I also understand perfectly that a judge could decide not to have a juror’s children in the same courtroom as the juror, once the trial was underway, in order to protect them all from the temptation of discussing the case at home. That is normal, as is the fear that they disturb proceedings somehow. However, we are speaking of school-age children,not toddlers, prepared for the experience of being in a courtroom, in a building where five trials were taking place that day, accompanied by an adult.
I would like to know the following: is what happened today legal and normal? Are children simply not allowed in a courtroom? Are not the benches inside a courthouse public property? Could my children not have peered in for a second to see what a courtroom looked like? I had them study diagrams of where each party involve in different sorts of trials stood, but they could not visualize how imposing the judge's bench looks or the jury box from a diagram.
I am, most sincerely, trying my best to raise responsible future citizens of both our community and of the world. This clearly includes following the law. Don't you think, though, that future generations would be more inclined to fully participate in civic life if they experience, at least once, and in a positive light, outside of juvenile or family court, the day-to-day workings of justice? I hope there is a way for us to do so again in the near future. I remain,
A post-script for blog readers: I will post a reply, or the summary of one, if I ever receive such from the Courthouse. Stay tuned to find out the proper way to serve as a juror and homeschool at the same time.