In late February I received a jury summons for the Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
My first reaction to the envelope in my mailbox that cold evening was, “Oh my god, what have I done?” Finding out that it was jury service was, frankly, a relief. I let my supervisors know and, largely, pushed it to the back of my mind. It was coming, there wasn’t anything I could do, and, frankly, I was looking forward to it. Serving on a jury is as much a civic responsibility as voting. I take voting seriously, I was damned sight going to take jury duty seriously.
On Saturday, I called in and confirmed that I would have to report for jury duty on April 6th. This wasn’t how I wanted to spend Tartan Day, but needs must.
I had to report to the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Harrisburg by eight o’clock this morning. This meant seeing a time on my alarm clock that I normally don’t see. To give you an idea, I don’t even leave for the office until about 8:15 every morning. I left, then, about 6:40. I wanted to leave myself time in case traffic was bad. Though I had an idea of where I was going, the directions online seemed quite bizarre and Google Maps only confused things.
Suffice it to say, I arrived at the Walnut Street parking garage, across the street from the courthouse, about 7:30.
After navigating security (with guards who did not seem amused when I asked them how their days were and attempted to engage them in conversation) and a confusing elevator system, I made my way to the seventh floor and the juror waiting room. There was a line out the door and down the hall — about eighty people were reporting — and it moved quickly. Pick up the flyers, hand in the parking pass to get it validated, report mileage, and get a Voir Dire questionaire. Half of the reporting jurors had a form they didn’t have to fill out, the other hand (including myself) did.
The questionaire, which I still have, presented a series of questions about one’s background — birthplace, employment, township of residence, marital status, children, previous run-ins with the law and the criminal justice system, etc. It wasn’t anything major, and I turned it back in after a few minutes.
There was a woman who reported for jury duty who had been given the wrong instructions on the phone on Saturday and she didn’t actually have to report today. There was the elderly woman who was accompanied by her “driver” (which was how he put it). There were even five people who didn’t show up.
The jury clerk then introduced herself to the group of jurors, and she explained what was happening. There were two judges who needed jurors. The first judge (for those who received a questionaire they didn’t have to fill in) was overseeing a criminal trial that would last two days. The second judge (for those who, like me, had to fill out a questionaire) also was overseeing a criminal trial, but the time for this trial wasn’t certain.
We then watched a short film, “Called to Serve” by the Federal Judicial Center. Chief Justice John Roberts introduced the film. He thanked the jurors-to-be for our participation in the legal process. Roberts grimaced a great deal in his introduction, and he didn’t look comfortable on camera. The remainder of the film (which ran about fifteen minutes) consisted of a history lesson on the importance of jury trials by Sandra Day O’Connor and Samuel Alito, along with personal anecdotes about the process of serving on a jury with three former federal jurors.
The jury clerk then had a short Q&A session with the jurors. One thing she made a point of stressing was that if we weren’t selected for a jury today, we were still in the pool of potential jurors for the remainder of the month and we would have to call in again for reporting instructions each weekend in April.
And then we waited.
At 9:30, the jurors who did not have to fill out the voir dire questionaires were taken to a courtroom on a lower floor. Then, about ten o’clock, those of us who remained (in other words, the ones who did fill out the questionaires) were given juror numbers. The first group was not given juror numbers; they simply had adhesive name bades that said “Juror” on them. I was juror #17 out of thirty-seven. A few minutes later, the numbers one through fourteen were then taken to a courtroom on the sixth floor.
Ten minutes later they were back.
At that point, because I’m not an idiot, I had a pretty good idea what was happening — the potential jurors were sent back because a plea deal was about to be reached. Until such time, though, we had to wait.
I was fidgety and I needed to stretch. I walked around the juror waiting room. It had a bank of windows on the Walnut Street side, and those windows overlooked a parking garage, the one where I had parked. On the west side of the building, the windows looked out over the Susquehanna River. I lingered at the windows for a while, because from the seventh floor I had a magnificent view of Metro Bank Park, the home of the Harrisburg Senators.
An hour and a half later my supposition was confirmed. A woman came in, thanked us for our patience and our service, said that a deal had been reached, and sent us on our way.
And, since it was a nice day in Harrisburg, I decided to play tourist before going home.
The first thing I did was to walk across the Walnut Street bridge to Metro Bank Park.
Opening night for the Senators is Thursday. As part of my 13-game plan I have an opening night ticket, but I’m going to need to exchange it online tomorrow or Wednesday as I won’t be able to attend. (Publication deadlines have a demand on my time. I could make it, but I’d likely miss the first two or three innings.) I wanted to see how the stadium looked before opening day. Frankly, it looks pretty snazzy, and I’ll write about that tomorrow because there are some new and different things that I think are pretty neat.
Back across the bridge I went. And it was quite busy, people on their lunch breaks, people out getting exercise. I walked along the waterfront, sat on a bench and relaxed for twenty minutes because there was nothing better to do on a lovely spring day when the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the river was serene.
There were some interesting statues along the waterfront.
A man reading the newspaper.
A PennDOT statue.
I did not go as far as Sunken Gardens, which I visited last year Memorial Day weekend.
Then I wandered around the State Capitol area.
In a lot of ways, the building itself reminded me of one of the Smithsonian buildings. Take the dome off, and it would fit in nicely along the National Mall.
I wanted to get lunch before I left Harrisburg, and from the juror waiting room I had seen an Irish pub on Locust Street, McGrath’s Pub
It was a cozy pub, and I liked the atmosphere. York could use an Irish pub like McGrath’s. I ordered the McGrath’s Irish Pub Burger — a slab of meat topped with cole slaw, bacon, and melted provolone — and, while I wanted a Guinness, I settled for an iced tea.
Those may look like potato chips, but they were actually french fries in the shape of potato chips.
Lunch was wonderful. The burger was nice. A pleasant time was had. Even the Yankees game on the television over the bar couldn’t dampen my spirits.
I’ll have to go to McGrath’s again sometime I’m in Harrisburg.
And, home I went.
Next week I should receive a check for my jury service and my mileage. And with luck, I won’t have to serve again this month.
And I should make sure to keep copies of the paperwork I received this morning; it will get me out of serving in a county court for the next two or three years.
Am I disappointed I didn’t serve on a jury. Yes, actually. That said, if I had to spend a day in Harrisburg with nothing to do, today was certainly the perfect day for that.