Jury Duty Redeemed

For those of you have been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember a particularly triggering experience I had during jury duty a few years ago. If not, please take a moment to read this post: My Civic Duty.  The cliff note version is that I was summoned to serve on a jury involving domestic abuse. In the course of the voir dire process, where lawyers question potential jurors in order to uncover potential biases, I had to give very personal details of my prior abusive relationship and rape in front of a room full of strangers. I was excused, but left the courtroom feeling very triggered and angry.

Fast forward to last week. I had again received a summons for jury duty. The summons actually came back in January. I was able to postpone my service until the school year was over, which was a good thing. However, my panic attack started building back in January and only got worse as the date of my jury duty got closer and closer. Would the same thing happen again? Would I be interrogated in front of strangers? Would I be deemed unfit for jury service yet again?

I am happy to report that several things came together to make this jury duty a much easier process for me.

First, I was sent to a different courthouse. This court was easier to find (I get lost whenever I go downtown, despite living here my whole life) and had easy access to a fairly safe-looking parking structure (let’s just say that I was parked in a very sketchy looking lot the last time around). This courthouse had a smaller group of potential jurors so it was less crowded. There was a more relaxed, positive atmosphere all around. This courthouse also overlooked the river. My city has a very negative reputation, but we have a stunning riverfront. Whenever I felt my anxiety rising, I stopped and looked out the window at the river. There was a gentle breeze blowing which made calming ripples in the water. It was just what I needed.

Second, when I was called into a group of jurors and sent to a courtroom, it became apparent that a woman was involved in the case. This may seem sexist, but the possibility that she was accused of rape or domestic abuse went way down and I was immediately calmer. Once the proceedings began, I found out it was a civil case involving medical malpractice. This took my anxiety level down even farther. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders and immediately felt confident that I could serve in this trial without a major panic attack.

Finally, the judge made one comment to us that helped tremendously. As he explained the voir dire process to us, he said that he knew we might be asked some personal questions. He said if we needed to respond to a question in private that was just fine.  All we needed to do was ask.

I wonder if he knows just how big of a thing that really was. That one simple statement made all the difference. I would not be required to reveal my biggest secret in front of strangers in this courtroom. I am in the process of writing him a letter thanking him for that. It was huge. If only my previous judge had said the same thing.

Now, in the end, I was not chosen. This time it wasn’t because of my answers to any questions, it was just luck of the draw. But I feel so much better about my ability to handle it the next time I get one of those summons.

Ease of access, a relaxed atmosphere, the ability to ground myself with the beauty of nature. And the kindness of one judge. I left with a smile on my face. I took a moment to walk down to the riverfront and take in the view before I went home. It was not a bad morning after all.



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