Admit it, jury duty is one of those things in life that you never think will happen to you, until it finally does. At least that’s how I felt when I received a letter in the mail that ‘summoned’ me to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Courthouse.
The morning of my summoning, I double checked the paper mailed to me. The summoning letter said I would have to be present at least until 5:00 p.m. My optimistic side got the best of me, thinking there was no way completing my duties as a good citizen would last until 5:00 pm that evening.
After crossing the street and entering the large marble entryway, I immediately noticed the architecture of the Courthouse. It’s something truly unique with tall, spacious, floors that are flooded with natural light. I continued through security and rode the elevator up to the Jury Assembly room. By the time I got there it was not even 8:00am and the room was already jam-packed with people. Court closings due to Hurricane Florence caused trials to be pushed back, causing for the court to call in over 80 jurors that morning. Considering how many people were present, the space of the jury assembly still did not make me feel confined in any way, and there was even space to pull out a laptop and quietly get some work done.
Eventually however, my name was called. I was grouped in with 49 other citizens of Mecklenburg county. As we were being herded to the trial room by the deputy sheriff, I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to find a familiar face smiling at me, and it happened to be one of my clients from work within the yoga community. This would not be the last event to surprise me that day.
As soon as I entered the courtroom, I grinned to myself. Sitting at the plaintiff’s desk was my former boss and owner of Y2 Yoga, Tanner Bazemore. Considering my knitted involvement with the yoga community, I was already well aware of the matters of the civil case before the judge said a word. Jurors sat in the benches and twelve of the jurors names were selected to go up. As each individual was called up to the stand, I started to doze off until my eyes shot open when I heard another familiar person was in the room. Called and assigned to the same jury duty case as I, was Mr. Harvey Gantt, a former politician, architect, and local legend to the South and to Charlotte in particular. Harvey Gantt selected made me realize that no matter who you are or what job title you have, you are still equally a citizen with duties to fulfill when necessary.
For the next six hours, lawyers of the plaintiff and defendant spent their allotted time speaking with all twelve selected jurors, including Mr. Ganntt. The questions they asked were all across the board, being personal to very random. They even brought out answers from the jurors that reflected their own strong personality and at times the conversation between juror and lawyer was very humorous to listen to. This is called the interview process as each ‘side’ gets to interview jurors to ensure that their case will not be treated with bias.
Interestingly enough, the interview process did not once bore me. In fact, having nothing else to do but sit and listen to the lives of other people was not the worst, as anyone’s story sincerely fascinates me and my passion for storytelling. On top of that, every two hours or so, the judge would say it was time for our morning or afternoon recess. Yes, even judges let you have a break every once in awhile!
And so, what a fool I was to dread jury duty. After having the opportunity to hear Gantt speak on his life, work experience and articulate himself in his answers to the lawyers, I realized the true privilege I had in the experience. Not to mention that the odds of being assigned to a case where I had an extremely valid reason to be dismissed, such as knowing the plaintiff, were very slim. I couldn’t help but to think that this experience was in fact, no coincidence.
The element of surprise in this jury experience has allowed me to walk away with a valuable lesson. It helped me understand that no matter how easy it is to dread a situation, you can just as easily walk into it with patience, grace, and curiosity. After all, Charlotte is a world and you never know who you just might meet.