Several years ago, my husband, an active working dad, got his jury duty summons in the mail. He blocked the day, rescheduled client meetings, and made plans to head down to D.C. Superior Court here in Washington, DC, where we live. He was instructed to call the juror phone line the night before, to determine if he needed to come in. Diligently, he called. And he was told he didn’t need to report.
He spent that jury duty day doing some deep work on his business. Digging into projects he otherwise wouldn’t have made time to work on. “Wow,” he declared. “If I can clear a day on my calendar because I think I have jury duty, I could do this even when I don’t actually have jury duty!.” Thus began his tradition of blocking a day on his calendar, every few months, labeling it as “Jury Duty,” and keeping it clear of any meetings. A brilliant plan and creative psychological trick, I think!
It’s perhaps based on this history that I didn’t groan when I received my jury summons in the mail. My first thought was “an unscheduled day just for me!” Based on my hubby’s history, the phrase “jury duty” in our household has come to mean an amazingly liberating and productive “bonus” work day we didn’t know we’d have.
But alas, today, I’m revising our definition.
I called the juror phone line on Friday, as directed. Sure enough, I was told I had to report for service. I’m writing this from the juror lounge at the courthouse. Wondering if the fact that I blocked one day free of work and kid obligations was sufficient. Or instead, whether my carefully-constructed work and childcare plans for the rest of the week are about to tumble like a house of cards.
Kudos to DC for Some Working Parent Perks
I put jury duty in the category of the “unexpected” that we as working parents have to deal with on a daily basis. Along with sick days, snow days, and the inevitable childcare shutdowns.
There are a few things I’m grateful to the District of Columbia for as a working parent, though:
- The Ability to Reschedule: My initial jury summons was for a day when I had both work and childcare challenges that were going to be extremely challenging to overcome. The D.C. court system allowed me to reschedule my jury service. I was allowed to select a date of my own choosing within the upcoming several months. Huzzah for flexibility.
- Accommodating Breastfeeding Jurors: The one-page flier they handed me as I walked into the juror lounge has a Q&A specifically addressing what to do if you’re nursing or pumping milk. The courthouse designated a private room specifically for nursing mothers to use during their jury service. Thank you, D.C. Courts, for that.
- Court–Provided Child Care: When I cleared courthouse security, the first thing I saw was a big, friendly-looking sign announcing that the court provided childcare to the children of jurors. At no charge. Your child had to be 2 ½ and potty-trained to be eligible, which is still a barrier for jurors with very little ones…but still, it’s something.
Yes, jury service throws a wrench in otherwise carefully-planned schedules. But I appreciate that the D.C. courts are doing what they can to make this experience just a little bit easier.
And Then There’s the American Justice System…
One of the things I packed into my “I hope I can get some work done today” bag, was Laura Coates’ NYT Bestseller, Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor’s Fight for Fairness. No, I don’t normally take books about the justice system into jury duty with me. But I just finished reading Laura’s book, and I’m interviewing her in a few days for our Mindful Return December Book talk. (Please join us on Dec. 8 to hear Laura talk about her powerful book! No, you don’t have to have read it to show up…and don’t worry, there’s no “cameras on” option available for the webinar, so you can eat lunch and listen in. Or if you can’t make it, we’ll send you the recording afterward. Click here to register.)
So, part of my hope for today is to plan my interview with Laura. We’ll see how that goes, as I was just called for a jury panel…and now it’s “hurry up and wait” time, so at least I can keep typing.
Having read Laura’s book, I’m walking into this jury service day with my eyes open a bit wider. I clerked at this same courthouse from 2005-2006, so I’m not exactly a novice to the system. Yet the judge I clerked for had a civil docket while I was here, so I was removed from any contact with the criminal justice side of the house.
Laura’s book made me much more acutely aware of so many things. Yes, it vividly portrays the racial injustice that pervades nearly everything about the criminal process. But it also focuses on the idea that each person involved in the process – prosecutor, defense attorney, victim, defendant, judge, security, and juror – are all complex human beings. Laura herself was, at various points, pregnant and pumping milk while prosecuting. We don’t leave these aspects of ourselves at home when we pass through the courthouse doors.
In light of the reflections I had just read in Laura’s book, I was particularly happy to see a film showing on a big screen TV as we waited in line to check in for jury service. The film was called “Understanding the Effects of Implicit Bias,” and the stars of the movie were the court’s judges and personnel. Their words encouraged us to think about what biases we hold, as we watch any evidence presented to us. A fix for the justice system’s problems? No. A step in the right direction, yes.
If I am chosen for a jury today, I know Laura’s words will help me view what I experience in a more nuanced light.
Later in the day update: I was called for a panel but was not selected for jury service. Perhaps because I am a health care lawyer and it was a medical malpractice case. I’ll never know. I also didn’t get a chance to prep for that interview with Laura…alas, that’s a project for another day!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave