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Jury duty wasn’t all that bad after all

Susan Wood

“Personal” is the word I walked away with, as I retreated, or celebrated depending on one’s perspective, from being called for jury duty. No more excuses through the mail that I was going to a funeral or leaving the country – which were both true.

I was herded Tuesday in the El Dorado County Superior Court with 76 other people as diverse as any South Lake Tahoe melting pot. As I sat reading while waiting for Judge Suzanne Kingsbury, the man behind me said he must be unfit to serve as a juror because he didn’t bring a book.

When she appeared, getting to know the people in my community was an interesting experience that could have served as a comedy act.

Only in Tahoe would you get a snowboarding instructor, whose wife also works for Burton snowboards, who admitted to being resentful that he’d been called for jury duty. It pays $15 a day, and this involved a six-day commitment. But more important, the powder beckons. The plaintiff’s attorney politely took a note. I’m sure the lawyer wondered if the snowboarder would therefore want to penalize his client for dragging him into his affairs.

The line of questioning from Kingsbury and the two attorneys whose clients are embroiled in a property dispute/domestic abuse case brought out some memorable answers from the first two rows. The attorneys were seeking any biases. In this civil matter, all I could surmise is a couple’s relationship in Garden Valley (near Georgetown) involved money and pain.

When the people in the first two rows were asked their basic information about children, marital status and family occupations, one woman said she was “currently available.” To that, the judge said she was unsure how jury service would serve as a dating pool. Many people laughed. Kingsbury is known as a personable judge.

Information on spouses proved delicate to one man, who said he didn’t know what his wife did for a living. A middle-aged woman stood up and said she had no children except the four-legged variety – her cat. Another woman with children said her daughter is a pharmaceutical representative. “I call her a drug pusher, but that doesn’t go over,” she said.

The prospective jurors were asked if they had been jurors before. As it turns out, three people in the first two rows had been called up on bicycle-related cases. This seemed odd in one room.

Kingsbury wanted to know if they’ve had personal encounters with lawsuits involving property disputes. One woman said her husband is a property manager. “He gets sued all the time,” she said.

A man in the second row said he was once entangled in his own property dispute involving money. Whether or not he would penalize the plaintiff or defendant in the matter remained uncertain. “And I’d hit him again,” he said of his counterpart.

The woman sitting next to me whispered that he may have struck out with biases on both fronts – property disputes and domestic violence.

The man on the other side of me muttered “the whole thing is a waste of taxpayer money.” I wondered if the couple tried to work out their differences. Kingsbury’s thank-you to the group for showing up was meaningful. I just bought another year before I may be called again. Answering a jury summons can be a test of patience, but it was more interesting than I expected.

For those of you wondering if you’re next, citizen names can be pulled randomly from a list of registered voters, motor vehicle operators, mailing lists, telephone directories, property tax records and utility companies.

“We use a variety of databases,” Kingsbury pledged.

Is the court concerned about being able to pull enough people out of Tahoe to get an adequate jury pool? “We’ve always worried about that. It’s kind of hit or miss,” she said. There’s apparently enough to offer “an eclectic group of people in the community,” she added.

Once people serve, Kingsbury said she’s found many of them forming a bond. “There are some people we have to dynamite out of there,” she said.

Further questions? Log on to http://www.courtinfo.gov.


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