The Real World: Jury Duty

A2J with Angela by Angela Inzano, CBF Director of Advocacy & Engagement

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As the holidays approach and we all take stock of our year in review and post our “decade challenge” photos, I’ve been thinking about the significant moments in my life that I’ll remember from 2019.

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Of course, there was getting married (!), honeymooning in Greece and Italy, and reliving my childhood in Disney World. There was seeing other close friends get married, learning to play guitar, becoming a certified mediator, and other personal and professional travels and successes that I feel so lucky to have been able to pack all into one year.

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Still, one more experience from 2019 will stay with me for years to come. It affected me personally and professionally and was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I served on a jury. For just under three weeks. One month before my wedding.

I know what you’re thinking, “how did you get picked?! I thought lawyers never got picked?!” Well, me too. In fact, I was so confident that I didn’t even plan to be there longer than one day, max. Boy was I wrong.

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I’ve received a summons before, so I knew the drill. Show up, wait, watch the exceptional 80’s era Lester Holt video, drink sad vending machine coffee (which takes Apple Pay, at least!), wait some more. Wish that someone would pull a pineapple or coconut out of their briefcase a la Carrie’s jury duty stint in Sex and the City.

As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think about a man I’d helped on the ‘L’ only a couple days earlier who couldn’t read his jury duty summons. English wasn’t his primary language, and he didn’t know where he was supposed to go. Jury duty, for me, was simple and clear. For him, every step of the process was likely to be confusing and frustrating. His experience likely more closely paralleled how the rest of our justice system feels to those navigating it on their own.

As I sat there waiting, a few people started chit-chatting. At one point, a woman stopped me and said, “wait a minute, did you say that your organization works to improve the court system?” “Yes,” I responded, ready to talk about simplification of court processes or getting rid of legalese. “Can you get a better water fountain installed in this room? The water barely comes out of it.” I started to say that isn’t really what we do, but luckily our panel was called.

I ended up getting to know that woman quite well over the next three weeks, and it was a good reminder that jury duty is how a lot of people come into contact with the justice system. In the end, what they really care about is whether or not the court works for them, from water fountains on up.

Over the next three weeks, I had a front row seat to four lawyers at the top of their game. The case was a personal injury case, an emotional one, to say the least, chock full of complicated medical testimony. It was grueling for everyone, the jury included. The judge made it as easy on us as she could, making sure we took breaks, listening to us when we said we’d rather power through, and doing her best to balance the schedule of jurors, witnesses, attorneys, and everyone else.

The jury room after three weeks of pent up emotions, questions, and opinions is a fascinating social experiment. I was, as literally everyone in my life had predicted, chosen to be the forewoman. I did my best to use that mediation training to make sure everyone felt heard, but also that we all stuck to the facts and the law. I was struck by countless thoughts that I am still processing. How very little most people, understandably, know about the law and our justice system. How implicit (and explicit) bias play such a large role in how we view witnesses, attorneys, and parties. How everyone in that courtroom had spent, at that point, six years of their lives on a case that was now in the hands of twelve people who were being as deliberate as they could given that they weren’t allowed to leave that room until they came to a consensus about something that extremely qualified medical experts couldn’t agree upon.

In the end, we came to a decision that I believe to be the right one on the facts, and the law, but that literally nobody in that room was happy about. It was gut-wrenching. I fear that if you polled the jury, they’d be split on whether they felt that justice was truly served. I fear that I might agree with them.

We each left that day with 11 separate checks for each day of our service (talk about inefficiencies), a certificate of service, and a very lovely handwritten note from the judge thanking us for our service. We all went home to our family and friends to try to (finally) summarize the last three weeks of our lives. And I went back to The Chicago Bar Foundation, to try to do what I can to make sure that the justice system does work for everyone.

As for that water fountain? Well, I donated my eleven checks back to the CBF, so we’ll see what we can do!

Happy Holidays, all, and Happy New Year!

About the Author:

HeadshotAngela Inzano is the Director of Advocacy and Engagement at the Chicago Bar Foundation. Since 2015, Angela has managed the day-to-day operation of the CBF Legal Aid Academy and the CBF Pro Bono Support Program, and assists with the CBF’s legislative and policy advocacy work. Angela also staffs the CBF’s Young Professionals Board, the CBA’s Legal Aid Committee, and supervises CBF interns.

Prior to joining the CBF, Angela was a Staff Attorney and the Policy Project Coordinator at The Family Defense Center. Prior to the FDC, Angela was a Public Interest Fellow at Lambda Legal. Angela earned her law and undergraduate degrees from Loyola University Chicago. While at Loyola Law, she was involved in the school’s Life After Innocence and Civitas Child Law clinics and served as a fellow at its Center for the Human Rights of Children.

Angela successfully completed the Chicago Marathon in 2012, enjoys traveling as well as politics, and is a novice “foodie.”

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