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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Shawn’s Experience at New York State Jury Duty

I just got through serving Jury Duty at the Bronx County Hall of Justice. And after doing my civic duty I can honestly say it wasn’t a great experience. I was just glad to get the two days done with so I could move on with my life.

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the construction of the Bronx County Hall of Justice and after experiencing that building I’ll say they’re true. Elevators that are too small, and courtrooms that are even tinier. Yeah, the light comes in from all the glass panels installed throughout the building. But I’d trade off all that flash for some substance. Things like larger courtrooms, and elevators big enough to hold more than four or five people.

At the Bronx County Hall of Justice the Jury Assembly Room has chairs that are too damn close together. There’s no space for a person to stretch out or even rest their arms. I mean if you’re going to take time out of people’s lives to do their civic duty at least make them comfortable. These seats are packed tight like a sardine can with no room for human legs or arms.

In comparison, the old Jury Assembly room of Bronx Courthouse on the Grand Concourse had chairs that had plenty of support and plenty of space. You didn’t mind spending a few days there.

Yeah, you can bring your laptop to the courthouse these days. But it’s not much of a plus. The Wi-Fi at the Bronx County Hall of Justice is absolutely shitty. I dare to say it’s on par with a 56K modem from 2000. On the second day I was there it kept cutting off and dropping.

Bronx County’s jury duty is SLOW if you get picked for case panels. Things…DRAG. On Tuesday I was chosen to be part of a panel at 11:30. And it literally felt like TIME STOPPED. Being on a jury is a big game of Hurry up and wait. Wait to assemble. Wait to go upstairs. Wait for the courtroom to open up. Wait for the formalities. The Judge introduces himself. The prosecutor introduces themselves. The defense introduces themselves and the defendant. The Judge tells us about the defendant and his crime. Asks some questions. Then He tells us the trial is supposed to be for three weeks. Anyone who has an issue can speak to the judge.

But it’s close to lunchtime. So we break for lunch. We’re supposed to return at 2:15. Things don’t get back on track until 2:45. The Jury spends time waiting. And waiting. The Jury is not seen as a priority. Their time is not seen as valuable. It’s more about legal process and procedure and not about showing us how important

After a long wait, finally I got to speak to the judge at 3:10 and got disqualified from the jury panel. I got given the ticket with my name and told to go back down to the Jury assembly room where I wait a few minutes more to get my Jury certificate. Two days of my life I’ll never get back. But on the plus side I made $40 a day.
I’d have to say my experience at the U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan was MUCH better than at the Bronx County Hall of Justice. The amenities at the Moynihan Courthouse blow the doors off the Bronx County Hall of Justice. Comfortable chairs, TV, and…FREE COFFEE! (well, there’s tea and cocoa,) If the Feds would just get Wi-Fi they’d be PERFECT.

On the judicial side, the Moynihan Courthouse runs like a MACHINE. As soon as you enter the jury assembly room they get right to business. Orientation and then Jurors are sent to panels. The judge and the lawyers get right to business. By the time lunch is over many of the jurors are vetted and the jury is about to get picked. No time is wasted. I wish they’d apply this approach to business at Bronx County.

On top of it the staff at the Moynihan Courthouse are a bit more friendly and provide a bit better customer service to Jurors. State courts employees’ seem apathetic and indifferent; just trying to get through the day. Federal Court workers seem to care about accommodating the jurors and getting making the experience as comfortable as possible, while state workers are more focused on just moving people along. Get em’ in, get em’ out.

If I had to suggest some improvements I’d love to see them space out those seats in the Jury Assembly Room at Bronx County Hall of Justice. It’s like a Got Damn JetBlue plane on there with the lack of leg and elbow room in between them. Yeah, those seats look nice, but they just are uncomfortable to sit in for extended periods of time, especially if you’re carrying a laptop or working with a tablet. I went into their reading room just to get away from those wretched seats.
The Reading Room is a nice open space with lots of room. However, they could use more comfortable chairs though throughout the courthouse. The wooden IKEA-esque seats and those space age benches on the floors look nice, but they are UNCOMFORTABLE to sit in. Who picked these seats? Marquis De Sade?

 And I’d also like for them to fix their Wi-fi so it’s a lot stronger. Wi-fi is a lifesaver when it works well. And the Wi-Fi at Bronx County Courthouse is not great at all. It’s spotty, slow and barely has the speed of a 56K modem. I couldn’t even get basic pictures to load on regular webpages or even Facebook. Great Wi-Fi at Jury Duty would allow guests to watch YouTube videos or stream a movie while Jurors waited to be picked for these panels.

Here’s a hint: Comfortable Jurors are a lot more objective in cases. And if they’re comfortable over 2-3 weeks of a trial they may take more time to

I’m just glad my term of Jury service at the Bronx County Hall of Justice is over.  For Now. If there’s a reason for NOT living in the Bronx, it’s doing a term of Jury service at their courthouse. If I had a choice, I’d take a Federal Jury Duty over a State Court any day. At least the Feds give you comfortable chairs, free coffee and they pay your bus fare in addition to your Jury Allowance. New York State needs to do better by its Jurors. If the State values justice then it needs to show jurors how valuable their time is by providing them with the best experience at its courthouses possible. 

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