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ONDBEAT: Jury duty: The great American task for those who are chosen

For the second time in 18 months, I’ve been chosen to exercise my American obligation to judge the actions and situations of some of my fellow Americans and report for jury duty.

I must’ve done such a bang-up job just a year-and-a-half ago, they wanted me back.

Except for cutting into my sweet work and rarer “me” time, my prior experiences with jury duty, which I’ve done about five times over the past few decades, is it’s educational.

Assuming I don’t have the usual newspaper deadlines breathing and crunching down on my neck (wonder when that’ll be), it can be interesting to head south of the border instead of north to Shallotte for the day to provide this bit of obligatory citizenship and service.

Besides, if I don’t show up, I could wind up in courtroom trouble and being judged myself, according to the notice that was in my mailbox exactly one month ago prior to my report-for-duty-every-morning week this week.

I’m not sure what kind of trouble not reporting for jury duty entails, and with a judge at the helm I don’t care to find out.

The best advice is to get there early if you want to find a parking space, especially on Monday mornings when a new court week dawns and more cars than spaces to hold them converge on the bustling little courthouse lot I’ve been summoned to in South Carolina.

The next bit of advice is to take some reading material with you into the courtroom, because you’ll be warming your seat for an hour or two until the judge and courtroom assistants decide what to do with you or whether they even want you.

One week when I was summoned to do my duty, I kept getting rejected by lawyers on both sides who apparently didn’t like when I identified myself as a writer/reporter. I have since deduced they prefer people who don’t know much, especially about their cases. The less people know, the more likely they’ll be seated.

The last few times I’ve been called have been more like a lottery. Instead of being screened by lawyers, the courtroom team draws juror names and sends them to adjacent rooms to start doing their duty by hearing cases.

So far, the cases I’ve been seated on for jury duty have been minor — driving offenses, car accidents and the like — compared to bigger crime cases I’ve never been called for.

If I ever get summoned for one of those, I won’t be surprised if lawyers start shunning me again.

The only times I’ve been able to sit in on those kind of cases is when I’m being a reporter rather than a juror, heating a seat in the media section, that is, or back in the old days when my grandmother had the TV tuned to “Perry Mason.”

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.