Brett Younger: And Justice for All


I was recently honored to receive notice that I had been named Juror Number #145308.  Like you would be, I was excited to get my invitation to report to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

For a few misguided slackers, the goal is to get out of jury duty.  I told Carol that I would be home soon.  Most lawyers are not eager to try their cases before ministers.  This line got me rejected once before, "As a Baptist minister, I think our justice system needs to focus on redemption rather than revenge."

Conventional wisdom is that if you wear a "Jesus is Coming Soon" T-shirt, carry a King James Bible, and whistle "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" you will be back for lunch.  But deep down I wanted to be picked.  These are small dues to pay for living in a country that values justice.  I was eager to do my civic duty and felt no contempt of court.

Juror #145308 started preparing.  I read the Book of Judges, which was not as helpful as you might hope.  (Samson, in particular, is not an exemplary magistrate.)  I looked at 1 Kings 3 where King Solomon suggests, "Cut the baby in half," but am still not sure the baby would recognize the wisdom in this.

I had dreams of Richard Gere tap dancing around the courtroom in Chicago, Al Pacino shouting, "You're out of order," and Jack Nicholson screaming, "You can't handle the truth!" I would be Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men.  I would keep an innocent man accused of shoplifting from the electric chair.  He would owe his life to me and would never know my name.

I got there at 7:40 for my 8:00 appointment and gathered with three hundred other devoted protectors of the Bill of Rights.  A few looked a little too eager, as though they were about to burst out: "I would love to be paid $30 to judge someone.  Pick me!  Pick me!"

Most seemed to be preparing their excuses:

"I am attracted to the prosecutor.  Is that a problem?"

"I don't understand what's so great about being impartial."

"As my mother used to say, 'You may not be guilty of this, but you probably did something else'."

"I can tell if people are guilty just by looking at them.  Like the guy in the robe."

Dressing inappropriately was a popular strategy.  George wore his baseball cap at an angle that screamed, "I do not belong on a jury."  Miranda was dressed like Kim Kardashian; she would not be chosen to serve on a jury dealing with solicitation.  Ivan's tattoos and chains said, "Felons are not eligible for jury duty.  I've committed several felonies, but I haven't gotten caught.  Does that count?"

When the bailiff came he looked nothing like Bull on Night Court or Rusty from People's Court.  Knowing these references makes me old.  They kept explaining who's who in the courtroom by saying, "If this were Law and Order, he would be . . ."  I am the only person who has never seen Law and Order.

We watched a video-How to be a Juror-that will make no one forget To Kill a Mockingbird.  They moved us around the room much like cowboys move cattle.  I was thrilled to be in Panel 6 with Judge Carol Brown as Juror #20.  I tried to start a conversation with Juror #19, but Elise had an iPhone.

Panels 1-5 were in courtrooms when Rusty (not his real name) told us to go to lunch.  We were escorted to the "prison food"-as a fellow citizen put it-where I paid $9 for a "Lucky Sub" that was named after an inmate named Lucky who made the bread early in a long sentence.

By 1:30, it felt like we were doing hard time.  I sent Carol a text, "Bring a cake with a file in it."  I started humming Bob Dylan:  "Any day now, any day now, I shall be released."  Judge Wapner could have been through a dozen cases by now.

When the bailiff said to Panel 6, "We're only going to take 15 of you" jurors 16-19 seemed delighted, but I felt sad as I turned in my plastic badge.

John Milton wrote, "God doth not need man's work . . . They also serve who only stand and wait."  This would have been more applicable if I had not spent the day sitting and waiting.

Garrison Keillor calls the fictional church in which he grew up "Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility."  Many of us grew up in the "First Baptist Church of Unending Obligation."  We might wish we did not have such a deep felt need to do our part, but even when we do not recognize it, there is something holy about showing up.

Taken with permission from Brett's blog, Peculiar Preacher.