On Wednesday morning, I got a glimpse into the making of a grand jury — an entity that performs its public service out of the view of the public or the media.
I was on jury duty this week, which helps explain why blogging was slow this week, and I landed in the pool to fill spots on two grand juries.
It isn’t a fun job: listening to prosecutors present their cases for indictments on complicated white-collar crimes, drug cases or sex abuse and domestic violence cases. It’s a considerable time commitment: grand juries meet one morning every other week, for six months. Juror pay isn’t exactly lavish: $5 for a half day’s work, although grand jurors do get lunch if their workday runs long.
I didn’t make the cut. All in all, I was glad to be unwanted.
Watching a couple hours of jury selection, it was easy to see how logistics affect the ultimate makeup of a jury.
A couple of prospective jurors were excused because they work out-of-state. That included Sen. Jim Risch, who dryly reminded District Judge Michael Wetherell of his work obligations in Washington, D.C.
A couple of pregnant women were excused. Same for a couple of people suffering from chronic medical issues. And same for a couple of Boise State University students, who can’t very well rearrange their class schedules two weeks into a semester.
I’m not sure how I would have reconciled working as a journalist with grand jury service. But while I’m a big advocate of open government, I did come away with a better understanding of the need for closed grand jury proceedings, which allow confidential informants or sex abuse victims to testify in private.
Having landed in the jury pool by luck of the draw, I was excused by luck of the draw. A random computer draw assigns numbers to prospective jurors; the lower the number, the better the odds of getting on a jury. I was fifth highest in a pool of 70 or so people. By midmorning, Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne excused several of us end-of-the-liners.
Wetherell invited us to stay and watch the open jury selection process. We all left quickly. I know I left with a deeper appreciation for anyone who winds up doing this difficult job.