Sunday, October 23, 2005

Beyond the Call of (Jury) Duty?

For the second time in almost exactly a year, I have been called to jury duty, which will happen tomorrow morning. As I noted last year on the eve of my service, jury duty is probably about as much fun as a root canal no matter who you are or what you do for a living, but it's especially distasteful--and potentially finanically harmful--to those who own their own businesses, and it's even worse for anyone who is the sole proprietor of said business. It's worse still for those with no other source of family income, i.e. the single. Wow, I'm up to about four strikes now, right? Please indulge me in a little rant here...

Unfortunately, business hardship is not an allowable exemption in my county (which, as I said before, is almost understandable, since some people would undoubtedly take improper advantage of such a loophole). It is possible to postpone one's service, but, in my case, there's no guarantee that the rescheduled date would be any better (I suppose I could ask to be assigned during a school holiday, but, knowing my luck, I'd be given the week right after Christmas or something). At least I have a little money socked away right now and none of my students have individual competitions for the next couple of weeks. Still, it's extremely distasteful to know that I'll be paid six dollars a day for my service; I earn that in twelve minutes when I'm teaching. Mondays are also busier this year than they were last year, so even if I only miss the one day, I'm out over 300 bucks.

I'm also concerned because, for the first time, I've been called to the criminal courts instead of the civil ones. This is distasteful for me for several reasons: 1) The thought of possibly helping to send someone to jail; 2) It seems as though a criminal trial would last longer than a civil one (am I wrong here?); 3) The criminal courts building is not on the main rail line, so using my free DART pass will require me to catch a bus after a forty-minute train ride; 4) My reporting time is thirty minutes earlier than it was for civil court, and now they require us to be there 45 minutes earlier than that because of possible long lines for security checkpoints...all of this will make me have to wake up--on the coldest day of fall so far--at five in the morning (for the first time since my college radio days), thus almost guaranteeing the Monday-est of all possible Mondays.

But my big question today is this: Is it fair to require someone to abandon his business, practically for free, in the name of civic duty? And, for that matter, is it in anyone's best interest to remove teachers from teaching for this purpose? I had the latter discussion with several other teachers at a social event last night, and we were pretty much of one mind that disrupting the educational process was rarely a good thing; in cases where a substitute is possible, very little productive work will take place unless the substitute is highly qualified (all the people I was talking to were band directors). In my own case, the lessons will just be completely missed, as the possibilities for make-ups are scant, thanks to the schedules of both the students and myself. Students (in both high school and college) are granted automatic exemptions; why not their teachers?

I do understand the desire of the legal system to have the biggest possible cross-section of the populace involved in the jury system, but the self-employed really do take it on the chin in this area. Employers are not required to pay their workers' salaries while on jury duty, but I'm sure most of them do. I, on the other hand, acting as my "employer," cannot possibly pay my "employee" (me again) his salary for any missed days, because the "company" (still me) will not have earned any money on those days. What to do?

I've been thinking for a long time about some fair way to deal with this, and I believe that I've come up with something: Allow the self-employed to deduct the amount of missed work on their income taxes. We already have a form that's entitled "profit or loss from business," and the amount of income sacrificed to jury service could be put in the loss column. The self-employed would thus get to participate in the jury process without taking quite so much of a financial hit. Anybody see any problems with this? Am I missing something? Or is it such a good idea that the government will never go for it? Leave your responses in the comments.

Also, if you're from another state (or country?), feel free to tell me how the process works in your area. In Dallas County, it's a "one day/one trial" policy, which means that if you're not picked the first day, your term of service is considered complete (I'm crossing my fingers here, bigtime). In Minnesota, as James Lileks noted recently, you only get called every two years, but you're on call for two weeks! (I'm not sure if that's better, but at least you could plan for it; I had two weeks' notice on this summons.) There are undoubtedly many other ways of doing things of which I'm not aware.

Anyway, my rant is over for now. Wish me luck tomorrow, and feel free to make your predictions in the comments as to how long I'll be stuck there this time. If I'm picked, updates will be sporadic; if I'm sent home, my gleeful post will go up tomorrow night.

UPDATE: I didn't get picked. Yay!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Give me the making of the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws."--Andrew Fletcher (1704), Scottish political writer, as quoted in the sermon this morning at church.


CreativeOne (Corey) said...

I think Jury Duty is and must be apart of our life as an american citizen. But you mention the word "Almost Free" Man do I agree with you there! I spent 3 weeks on a criminal trial. I made only 140 bucks! I wasnt allowed to work, talk on the phone, or go eat dinner on my own. I was disgusted.

Anywho Good Blog!

Shawn said...

I don't want to grow up. I don't want to vote either. Call me a shame but that's how I feel. It's all beyond my power it seems, and I don't want to waste my time with it.

Anonymous said...

If you told this rant to the jury selection people, I'm pretty sure they'd think you wanted to declare the guy guilty, and they will not want you on the jury so you could go home :D

Gary P. said...

Report for duty wearing a Log Cabin Republicans shirt, and you'll have lawyers on both sides sprinting to the judge to see who can be the first to strike you from the jury pool.

Kev said...

Corey--Wow, you had me scared for a bit until I read your blog and saw that you were in Michigan. They hardly ever sequester people here in Texas, thankfully.

Shawn--If you don't want to grow up, does that mean you're a Toys "R" Us kid too? ;-)

Oh, and the only thing about not voting is that, by doing so, you sort of sacrifice the right to gripe about whomever gets elected.

Zack--I wonder if the practice of having the attorneys read prospective jurors' blogs will ever come into play. Give it about a decade or so, and I wouldn't be surprised.

Gary--LOL! But I'd have to ditch that shirt before the train ride back, lest some Oak Lawn residents get the wrong idea...