As I sorted through the usual array of junk mail that arrived at my home in late May or early June, one piece of correspondence caught my eye.
It bore the official stamp of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. I had a feeling I knew what it was. My feeling was confirmed when I opened it.
For the second time in about 23 years, I had been summoned to appear for jury duty.
My summons said to report at 8:45 a.m. June 11 to begin my two-week stint. So I joined more than 100 other people from all walks of life in reporting to the county courthouse.
My friend and former colleague, Bob Jackson, is the county’s jury commissioner. He clearly explained how the jury system works and our duties as jurors.
Jurors were placed into panels. I was selected for Panel D. Panel D jurors didn’t get called Monday, so we were excused for the day. But that didn’t end our service, Bob pointed out.
Panel D jurors were to call the jury office Wednesday evening to see if they were needed. If that phone call said we weren’t needed Wednesday, we were instructed to call again Friday evening or over the weekend to see if we would be needed for a trial the next week.
Time to report
Well, as it turns out, Panel D jurors were told to report at 9 a.m. June 18. We would be needed to hear a civil case before Magistrate Tim Welsh, who is assigned to Judge R. Scott Krichbaum’s courtroom. Each of the county’s common pleas judges have magistrates to help clear crowded dockets, most of which are civil cases.
As fate would have it, I would be in the initial group of jurors to be questioned to determine whether I would be selected to hear testimony in this lawsuit.
My mind then raced back to when I was in the courtroom of the late Judge William G. Houser in the 1980s and sitting in the jury box waiting to be questioned. I was pretty confident I would be excused by the lawyers involved in that civil matter. After all, I knew the judge and two of his children. I knew the court reporter, the bailiff and the lawyers trying the case. But I was selected.
My fellow jurors and I heard a day of testimony. We deliberated for a few hours, and returned a verdict for the defendant, which meant no money for the plaintiff, the party bringing the legal action.
Well, again this time, I thought I would be excused. I’ve known Tim Welsh for years. I knew the bailiff and the court reporter, and one of the lawyers trying the case was Lou D’Apolito, who I had interviewed over the years for news stories involving either criminal or civil actions in which he was involved. Lou was representing the plaintiff, who had been injured on her job back in 1999. The defendant’s lawyer was from Akron. Once again, I was seated to hear testimony.
In civil cases, eight jurors are selected, and depending on the nature of the case, one or two alternates also are chosen. The alternates serve only in the event that something happens to one of the eight jurors that keeps them from fulfilling their duties.
My fellow jurors were Kate, Emily, Joe, Cris, Jen and two men named Jim. I can’t remember all their occupations, but two were Youngstown State University students, one was a retired teacher, and one was an assistant auto parts manager.
Choosing a foreman
As in my previous jury stint, all testimony was concluded in one day. When we went to the jury room to begin our deliberations the next day after receiving our instructions, the first order of business was to select a foreman or forewoman. Guess who was selected?
I suggested we look at the evidence first before even thinking about taking a vote. We looked at the pictures, reviewed the doctor’s report, and then discussed among ourselves what we heard or thought we heard during the testimony.
Magistrate Welsh informed us at least six votes were needed for either the plaintiff or the defendant to resolve the case. After about an hour of discussion, we arrived at our decision. The plaintiff left with no money.
Jury duty is an awesome responsibility that should never be taken lightly. People’s lives can be changed forever based upon the decision made in that jury room. You don’t get paid much — $10 a day for every day you serve — but the experience is one you’ll remember for a lifetime.