Earlier this year, I received a jury summons, the first I've received in several years. In the past, I had been in school and easily postponed my jury duty until school holidays. My only experience has been sitting in the waiting room for a few hours and then being excused. Easy peasy.
Now that I'm working full-time, it's another matter. My employer let me have my legally required time off on the afternoon I had to report to the courthouse. What I wasn't prepared for was the jury selection process and the prospect of a two-month trial! Yes, two months!
While sitting in the crowded waiting room at 850 Bryant, a judge who was looking for jurors came down to speak to us. She talked about several things including filing for hardship, but made clear to think carefully if your situation is one of hardship versus inconvenience.
My eyes bulged when I saw at least 75% of the people in the room raise their hands to apply for hardship. With my head spinning over the judge's words, I ended up figuring I could survive a two-month juror stint and did not apply for hardship. I filled out a juror questionnaire with the few remaining people in the room and was told to report back next Monday.
My stomach was in knots the entire weekend. How would I manage financially if I sat on a jury for two months? Jury duty pays $15 a day for service plus a little more for transportation, hardly a living wage in SF. I spent the weekend devising a plan for myself in case I was put on a jury.
If you're lucky enough that you can survive weeks or months of (almost) unpaid jury duty, hats off to you! But if you're like me and many other people who work the typical 9-5 without much flexibility, here are some ways I've contemplated to ease the burden of serving jury duty.
1) Don't answer your summons
Ooooh, I have heard of people doing this without penalty, but I don't condone doing this because it's illegal and I believe we have a civic duty to serve if called. Let's move on...
2) File for hardship
Each judge handles applications for hardship differently. In my case, most of the people who filed for hardship were required to report back on another Monday within the next three months and take a chance at being on a jury then.
3) Reschedule your jury duty
You're allowed to reschedule your jury duty once for a date within the next six months. I used to schedule it for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day because that's when I was off from school. I never got past the jury waiting room, which leads me to believe that your chance of being picked for a jury are less around the holidays, when many working people including judges take vacation.
4) Shift your work schedule
If I remember correctly, court is in session from about 9:30am to 4pm Monday to Thursday with 1.5-hour lunch break. This provides a good amount of free hours that can be utilized for work. I planned to shift my schedule to work full days on Friday through Sunday and work few early morning or late afternoon hours during the week. If you are able to work part-time or shift your work hours temporarily, that can be a big help in getting by.
5) Pick up side jobs
I'm a huge fan of taking side jobs to earn extra income if you can manage to do it. Lots of websites and apps exist nowadays to link people to side jobs. I planned to walk dogs and babysit cats through Rover and run errands for people through TaskRabbit in my free hours. I'd also sell clothes and other oddities online. It might be a challenge to line up side jobs, but they offer a flexible schedule and extra income.
6) Change your mindset
Consider jury duty a sabbatical from a hectic job. Days in court offer the benefit of a set schedule, long lunch hour, and nights without bringing work home. Beyond the demands and pressures of being involved in a murder trial, I could spend my free time thinking about my other interests and hobbies, even letting my mind wander, without being anxious about my regular work getting done. I'd try to make the best of a difficult situation with a change in attitude.
So how did things turn out? I was very close to being on the jury. I was one of the first people to be called up to the jury box the following Monday, the start of jury selection. I was actually a juror and my job was to convince the attorneys and judge to dismiss me. That was easy for me because I knew I couldn't be a fair juror given the circumstances of the case.
I told the attorneys this in multiple ways in response to multiple questions and I was dismissed. As for the trial itself, the results came out a few months later. A mistrial due to a hung jury. I'm thankful I was not a juror on that case. Whew!
In the end, there would have been no way for me to serve on a jury for two months without enduring some hardship. I consider this a lesson learned. Next time I will more than likely file for hardship and take my chances that way. I don't have the answers to surviving jury duty, just some tips to start the discussion. Feel free to share your thoughts.