Earlier this summer, I completed service as a grand juror in the DC Superior Court. Eight consecutive weeks of service, meeting all day on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Grand jury proceedings are secret so jurors are not allowed to bring any electronic devices into the jury room. Cell phones, computers, and e-Readers are checked and locked as you enter the building. Jurors’ only access to the outside world is during the hour lunch break (which is only about 45 minutes once you pick-up your belongings and go through security to re-enter the building).
The time leading up to grand jury service is stressful. You work overtime to complete projects before your service begins, you reschedule work meetings to take place on Mondays and Tuesdays when you are in the office, and you prepare as best you can to be cut off from communicating with your colleagues despite still having to meet your work obligations. Once you are serving, the stress of working full-time while not having access to the Internet or team members during normal working hours is real. You wake early to work before heading to jury duty and you work after completing a day of service. Weekends are no longer yours to enjoy—I found myself working both Saturday and Sunday.
And grand jury duty can be exhausting. There is a lot of hurrying up and waiting—delays in witnesses’ arrival times, prosecutors being called for more pressing matters, and downtime to complete paperwork. This coupled with listening to specifics regarding crime and poverty can leave you drained at the end of day.
Despite the stress and exhaustion, I learned much from serving as a grand juror and don’t regret my service time at all:
- Be Grateful. Most of the cases heard involved victims and defendants who lived in poor neighborhoods, did not have access to education, and lacked strong parenting. I came away incredibly grateful for the opportunities I was given during my childhood years and that I receive every day. I live a life of privilege where I feel safe. I cannot say the same for the witnesses that came before the grand jury. Cory Booker once quoted his father telling him, “Boy, don’t you dare walk around this house like you hit a triple, when you were born on third base!” During service, it was very evident that I was born on the home plate while a large number of individuals in DC have not even made it onto the field.
- Be Friendly. My fellow grand jurors were amazing people with fascinating careers (The World Bank, National Park Service, Supreme Court Press, a linguist who met the Dali Lama) who shared many interesting tidbits about DC (where to go, what to see, who to know) and were well-read (books read during service included A Walk in the Woods, Grit: The Power of Persuasion and Perseverance, and Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America). It was important to talk to these people, ask them questions about themselves, and likewise open up and share something about me. If I had closed myself off during jury duty, I would not have met a wonderful group of people who taught me so much and exposed me to the beauty and diversity of DC.
- Humor is the One Connector. The witnesses that connected most with the jurors were the ones who used humor when giving the basic facts of an arrest (and most cases tended to share the same facts so the repetition became rather boring). The most respected prosecutors were the ones who could crack a smile or laugh during a witness examination if something ridiculous happened. And, the jurors that were the most engaged with the group were able to tell a joke. As a group we often found a way to laugh despite the boredom and heavy subject matter. Humor brought us together and made us an incredibly efficient and productive jury: hearing over 125 cases.
- Lack of Education About the Law. I attended law school and practiced for about four years before moving into higher education, so I went into grand jury service with a strong foundation of the law and an understanding of what a grand jury does. I was amazed by how many times I told people about serving as a grand juror and they would start talking about their service on a jury trial (petit service). Most people did not know the difference between probable cause and reasonable doubt. And, most grand jurors needed quite a bit of instruction to grasp the process. Most likely this is not an issue for most people, but it brought home the point that if and when you engage with the legal system, lack of legal knowledge puts you at an extreme disadvantage. Somewhat like lack of knowledge about health care systems and health insurance would undermine my ability to successfully navigate my health care options.
- If You Have a Strong Team, You Can Lean on Them. Heavily. I know the Student Development team at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School is a strong one. But, they are also encouraging, empathetic, and incredibly helpful. They often asked me about my jury service, inquired of how they could be of help, and actively took tasks off of my to do list. Being away for eight weeks with no Internet or phone access during the workday left me no choice but to give up all control and every member of the Student Development team rose to the occasion. This set of circumstances confirmed that my teammates are leaders and committed to doing good work with minimal supervision.
At Carey Business School, our mission is to “positively transform business and the society it serves.” Grand jury service transformed me and I hope that all have the opportunity to actively participate in society and make a difference.