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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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The jury duty juggle

Uploaded: Aug 16, 2015
Our household breathed a collective sigh of relief last Friday when, after a week of serving as an "on-call juror", our son was informed that his service was not needed at this time and he was exempt from jury duty for a year.

It all started last March. He received an important-appearing letter from the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. Because he was away at college I got his permission to open it, and was surprised to find a juror summons. He had just turned 19. Neither of our other adult children had ever received a summons. I was summoned once a couple of decades ago but checked the breastfeeding-mother box and have not been summoned since. His dad was summoned a few times but many years ago. There was little interest in requiring the rest of the family to serve, why him?

Since our son is a full-time student at a university a day-long car ride away, and the summons specified a week in May in the middle of his term, I looked for the box to check for the full-time student exemption. No such box exists. I considered going to the courthouse. Then I heard my friend's saga. Her 19-year-old, who also attends an out-of-town college, received a summons last year. My friend drove to the courthouse in San Jose, but the best deal she could broker for him was being on-call for jury duty Christmas week. It was the only week he was home from college last year!

Because the juror summons has draconian threats to fine, imprison, (and banish from the kingdom), anyone who ignores it, and I am a rule follower, I chose the option of ONE postponement (bold capitals are theirs), and selected the week in August that our son would return from his summer study-abroad program, hoping that if he fell asleep in the courtroom the judge would find him unfit to serve due to a medical condition (jetlag). Our son was also due to start an internship that week. I decided against driving to San Jose to attempt to convince an unsympathetic clerk that our son was contributing crucial expertise to ground-breaking research. It would be a difficult sell when he's not even getting paid!

Thus began the waiting game. Starting Friday, he was required to check the website every evening after 5pm for the update for the next morning, as well as check it daily at 11am in case he was needed that same day. He was required to report for jury service at the courthouse with one hour's notice, and advised that since no parking is provided please take public transportation. This requirement is physically impossible for 99% of jurors given that even people that live in San Jose don't work in San Jose. The city has a job/housing imbalance. Public transportation to downtown San Jose from most areas in the county where people do work takes well over an hour.

For my son, this requirement meant remembering to check the website at precisely 11am each day. If summoned, he planned to (gently) drop whatever he was doing in the lab, race home on his bike, and pick up whatever car he hoped the other four drivers in the family had remembered to leave for him. With our communication issues, or lack thereof, I considered warning family members with a sign on the windshield: "Punishment for removing this car from the premises includes fines, imprisonment, and banishment from the kingdom". Our son would then drive himself to the San Jose courthouse and find a parking space. All in an hour.

Fortunately this plan never needed to be executed, although with only a year reprieve we should probably start planning now for next summer!

What is it worth to you?


Posted by parent, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm

If your son was ever accused of a crime (rightfully or wrongfully), I bet then he would be glad this country has a criminal trial-by-jury system. In order to be protected by this system, you also have to willing serve in it.

Posted by jury duty , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 4:41 pm

While any criticism of jury duty meets with an emotional argument such as the one posted by 'parent' above, frankly, if anyone I know was ever tried for a crime, I'd be very concerned that a panel of untrained folks will decide his future. We live in a state where even for changing the faucet on my sink, the state requires a licensed plumber, who has to undergo certain training to obtain his license. When it comes to making decision that have a profound impact on an individual's life, however, we have no criteria for eligibility nor any training etc. Jury system is a draconian system.

Posted by Karen, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm

That jury reporting system sounds like it would be challenging for most people. It would be better to have a way to opt in to jury duty at convenient times, and allow people to serve during weeks that fit their schedule. Most jobs (and personal lives!) are not flexible enough to be able to block off a week and drive to San Jose with an hour's notice.
At a minimum, there should be an exemption for a full-time college student who is living outside of the county.

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Great story, Sally! Back in the 1980?s, I remember feeling grateful for being in a ?modern? county where I could be ?on call? at my desk at work. Back then, the county next door still required its prospective jurors to spend a week waiting at the courthouse. Technology, properly used, could allow people from all walks of life to serve on juries more productively.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Hi LJ,
Yikes, sitting in the courthouse for a week waiting would be truly onerous!

Thanks, Karen, for reading and commenting. I was tempted during this process to volunteer to serve in his place since I have never served and I could make it work right now with a minimum of disruption. I agree that giving citizens more choice in scheduling is essential, and perhaps two hours notice is more reasonable. Full-time students should be exempt. I am imagining an 18-year-old high school student dealing with the logistics of being "on call" during school.

Dear jury duty,
Thank you for reading and commenting. There are certainly pros and cons to this system but I think juries provide a crucial way for citizens to have a voice in our courts. I will admit, though, that it was startling to think of my son (as ethical and consciences as he is!), being entrusted with this responsibility.

Dear parent,
Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree that serving is an important duty for all citizens, but improvements could be made in the summons process!

Posted by improvements, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 2:10 am

I think the court system really should bring the jury system in to the 21st century so more people can serve, and the notoriously slow court system can process cases faster.

One of the most troubling things your post didn't touch on is that the duration of cases is completely unpredictable, you don't know if your life will be on hold for long periods of time.

I've seen online mentions of jurisdictions where they videotape cases and litigants can choose to have the jury view their case by video in exchange for a speedy process and short trial. The jury also understands in advance the limitation on the time of the trial, so may be more able to serve. Naturally, it might be possible even to have jurors view the video portion of cases after work, for example, further widening the pool.

I'm not sure I think a whole trial should be conducted by video, but I think it would actually be a lot more effective if trials were videotaped and, frankly, edited in a way that was acceptable to both sides, then shown to the jury, with only closing remarks live. This has the advantage of allowing split screens so jurors can watch many parties at the same time. It also eliminates a lot of unnecessary wait time, when jurors really don't need to be there. And jurors would know in advance how long the trial would be - in every case, shorter than it would have been live. It could save the court system a huge amount of money. So long as potential litigants were overtly willing to accept it for their cases in exchange for a less costly trial, a speedier court date, etc, it would also, I think, improve the juror pool and allow more people to more easily serve. Especially people with certain kinds of disabilities, who would be better able to participate if they know in advance what will be demanded of them.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 9:10 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Improvements, for reading and commenting. Video or other means of remote viewing would go a long ways to increasing the percentage of citizens that could serve.

Posted by Improvements, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 10:52 am

Your point about full-time students really needing an exemption is really apt. Serving on a jury for most students would be a hardship because it would put their education at risk.

I think law schools should be researching ways to make jury participation more easy and possible for jurors, including jurors for whom serving would otherwise be a hardship (because it would also mean jury service would be less of a hardship for everyone). People who have really lived life, with all its difficulties, have a quality of wisdom you can't get any other way. I don't think it's much of a diverse jury pool if you can only count on people who have nothing going on and can put their lives on hold indefinitely through a physically and mentally arduous process at the drop of a hat.

I think any change in the jury system would have to be well-researched for whether the results are as good or better. It's possible the results could end up better, even just because you would have jurors at their best. But law schools should be doing the research. Citizens should be excited, not fearful or unduly stressed, to fulfill this important duty.

Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 10:53 am

A short time after I received my American citizenship I was called for Jury Duty. Instead of a burden, I chose to consider it a privilege to serve my beloved new country. I dressed up in proper business attire, I researched what it meant to be a juror, I was interviewed, and I was elected as one of the 12 jurors.

Not only did I learn a great deal about DNA (the main focus of this case) and the intricate details of this science, I also felt great admiration for my fellow jurors who came from all walks of life. To my wonderful surprise, I ended up as the foreman of the case, and as a good team we came to a unanimous decision within two hours.

If called again, I would serve immediately. I believe a decision by 12 jurors with sound minds and a willingness to serve is a good system. It may not be a perfect system, but it is an excellent system.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Anneke,
Thank you for reading and commenting. You are an inspiration to us all!

Posted by Improvements, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm


Please consider in the future volunteering to serve on a grand jury. Grand juries go even more in depth into issues and they are an important part of our system. I have heard that having jury experience is a must.

The unfortunate thing is that, like Sally Torby's son, many people are just not in a position to serve without serious hardship -- a student's entire education and professional/financial future could be derailed by one extended trial -- but many of those people could serve if the system took stock of how to solve those problems without compromising the basic value of trial by jury (such as through using new technology to solve those problems).

Posted by Miriam Palm , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm

A few remarks from an oldster who remembers when it was MUCH WORSE: jury pool assignments were on a recorded telephone line, and a potential juror had to listen thru all the assignments for his/her group's instructions. There now is a website where you can check the assignments, making it much easier.
Web Link

I was on a jury during the gas crisis in 1974; when I said "I'll be back tomorrow if I can buy gas," the response was "that's your problem."

My recent experiences were assignment to North County courthouse near California Ave. rather than downtown SJ or Hedding, but that may not be a typical experience. That might be a place to discuss service with their Jury monitors, rather than San Jose.

Posted by hermia, a resident of Triple El,
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

I'm sympathetic to the stress put on students
who don't actually live here, but all the fuss about juggling cars is misleading.
One can still get a taxi (or Uber, if you swing that way) in pretty short order, if needed.
It's a phone call.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:13 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I personally despise the jury system. We have so many stupid and ignorant people in this country that the thought some of them might decide my faith or that of someone I love fills me with dread. We have tens of million of American who don't read, don't travel, who are mercifully labeled as "low information" just because words like stupid and dumb are not PC, who are addicted to reality tv, gladiator sports and soap operas. These people are given the authority to make crucial decisions, sometimes life or death decisions about other people's lives. Terrifying.

Posted by Improvements, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 20, 2015 at 9:03 pm


Juries actually work quite well. Knowing the kinds of unethical stuff lawyers do to people should be what fills you with dread. An adversarial system that assumes truth and justice will magically result from conflict led by people with the moral compasses of slime mold does damage beyond all comprehension. People should have a right to be innocent until proven guilty, and somehow that has been twisted into everyone has a right to get away with whatever they can. Not the same thing. Please don't write me back about some lawyer you know who is a fine person, I know some, too. (...some of my best friends are lawyers...) The jokes are well founded in reality. I do wish the rules were more conducive to a genuine search for truth and justice.

Posted by malvika, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 20, 2017 at 4:18 am

nice post, thanks for sharing
Web Link
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