A Little Peppermint Tea With Your Jury Duty?

If you can do this in family court, more or less, why not for those awaiting jury duty?

Just got another summons for jury duty, this time for Dallas Municipal Court. Alas, often summoned, never chosen. Seems no one likes my answers on juror questionnaires. But after writing about Judge Gene Knize a few weeks ago, I have some new points to make the next time I have to fill out one of those.

What caught my eye today was Dallas Only Daily’s story on State District Judge Lynn Cherry. Since the wholesale change from Republican to Democrat judges at the courthouse, we’re now getting some glimpses of the future of Dallas jurisprudence -- and it is all sweetness and light. Cherry, a family court judge, gives her courtroom the ambience of a “Hill Country bed and breakfast,” writes reporter Michael Grabell. She burns scented candles and plays classical music. “If that doesn’t work,” Grabell reports, “she sometimes invites feuding spouses to sit on her massaging couch or offers them a warm cup of peppermint tea.”

The judge wants everyone to feel comfortable, cozy, to work out settlement agreements that promote harmony -- especially for the kids.

Great idea, though I’m not sure about the massaging couch. Isn't that how people wind up in family court in the first place? But Judge Cherry’s approach doesn’t go far enough. To hell with warring spouses; they got themselves into this mess, after all. Come on, what about those citizens who show up each Monday for jury duty? All they did was get a driver's license and keep their noses clean. Now they get to be treated like cattle while prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges do mysterious things behind closed doors; fact is, most would-be jurors are often dismissed at the end of a long day with the feeling that everyone’s time matters except their own.

So I have some ideas for ways the system could improve its treatment of jury panels.

Instead of massage couches, install some of those vibrating chairs like they sell at Brookstone. Let jurors take five-minute turns while they wait to be called.

Provide gourmet lunches instead of sending panelists down to the courthouse cafeteria. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a judge eating at the cafeteria. Why should jurors have to suffer?

Increase juror “pay.” Most jurors don’t have understanding bosses or salaries that pay when they aren’t at work. Jurors get six bucks the first day; those who make a panel after that are paid $40 a day. Janitors who clean toilets in the courthouse make more than that.

Pay for all their parking; now they paid a reduced rate.

Above all, don’t waste their time. Panelists shouldn’t have to wait all day to get into a courtroom only to be told they are excused for something that renders them ineligible. Tell prosecutors and defense lawyers to work out their issues before the trial date. Jurors often spend lots of time going in and out of the jury room while lawyers argue motions that could have been settled before they showed up.

Yep, a little peppermint tea would be nice. But back to Judge Knize and others of his ilk: Bailiffs, give your judge some serious caffeine before he/she takes the bench. And, judges, don’t turn your back to the proceedings. You may have heard it all before, but at least pretend to listen to the lawyers. After all, the jurors have to --Glenna Whitley

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky