A Jury of My Levi-Clad Peers
Earlier this month, along with 200 or so of my fellow citizens, I reported for jury duty in Suffolk County (Massachusetts) Superior Court. Unlike about 150 of them, I wasn't wearing jeans. I was wearing what I would wear to work: wool slacks, a sweater, and a jacket. Business casual-plus, as it were.
The jury attire shouldn't have surprised me. I've been observing this trend towards an ever more casual jurisprudence look for over a decade. Blue jeans, I'm guessing, have now reached a level of critical mass as jury wear. In Boston, at least, it's the wardrobe of choice when answering the jury duty call.
I am not a dress-up kind of person, and most of my days not-with-a-client are spent in jeans or their equivalent. Comfort aside, part of the attraction for me is the uniform aspect - a habit that was drilled into me from an early age. Throughout grammar school and high school, day in, day out, I wore a uniform: green jumper, white blouse. Yes, even after every other Catholic high school in the universe had moved on to the relatively cute and hip plaid skirt and blazer, my school stuck with the jumper - the tried and true look for the Catholic girl since the 1930's. Maybe the nuns liked the jumpers because they were a lot harder to hike up and turn into a mini-skirt than an actual skirt-skirt would have been.
In college, my new uniform became blue jeans, and it's been that way pretty much since. So I well understand and appreciate blue jeans.
I just don't understand and appreciate blue jeans as all occasion-wear. Shouldn't there be at least a few occasions - wakes and weddings and jury duty - that call for garb that's a notch or two up the costume food-chain?
Why isn't business casual the minimum dress requirement for serving on a jury?
Business casual - khakis and shirt with a collar for men, equivalent something or other for women - is neat, professional, and dignified. It conveys a seriousness of purpose that says that this event is more important than watching a baseball game, walking the dog, or raking leaves.
My career has been in high tech, which has combined elements of ultra casual (everyday for techies, Fridays for everyone else), business casual (most everyone), full business drag (customer-facing people on "customer days," or personal choice). Basically, it's been whatever's appropriate for the individual, the role, the group, and the occasion, and it's worked out pretty well.
That's generally worked out well.
At times casual became too casual and at various places I worked we ended up with dress codes that outlawed flip-flops, cut-offs, and belly shirts. In one place we had to create a new, impromptu rule when one of the techies showed up in what appeared to be a pajama top with holes in it, with what appeared to be claw-mark blood stains on the back.
None of that so far on jury duty, and yet...
We may not need to be all suited up like the prosecutor and defense counsel, but I think we should have been a notch above the defendant, who was wearing a battleship gray scrub shirt that said DOC (Department of Corrections) on the back in block letters and, of course, a pair of jeans.
The above was harrumph was written before we actually sat down as a jury and started to deliberate what was an exceedingly difficult and emotionally exacting case.
When it came to weighing the facts, discussing our understanding of them, sharing our interpretations (and personal experiences), and trying our damnedest to separate our gut, emotional reaction from what we were being asked to do with respect to THE LAW, it didn't make one scintilla of difference whether the jurors had on jeans, business casual, or something out of Vogue or GQ. All my fellow jurors were intelligent, thoughtful, honest, and committed to doing the right thing.
And I believe that we did it.
Ours was not an easy case or a comfortable verdict. This was not about whether Mary Smith sprained her ankle in a roller rink and feels like suing. It was not about whether someone stole the Sunday collection from a church. Or embezzled enough to retire from their employee. Or knocked the other guy unconscious during a bar fight.
Our case was really hard.
Half way through our deliberations, we discussed throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves hung (and unable to get unhung), and leaving it for both sides to make a better case and put it before 12 other jurors.
But, whatever way we voted, whatever we were wearing, everyone took the instructions of the lady in the black robe very seriously, playing the recording we were given of them over and over again, and talking each time about what she'd said - and about what it meant to us as we struggled to reach a unanimous verdict.
What was the case that was so hard? We had to decide whether the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could prove that a man who, 14 years ago, raped a child, remains sexually dangerous. The Commonwealth couldn't.
I hope that I never pick up the papers and find that this man has "recidivated" and committed another heinous offense.
But, whatever the outcome here, I will always remain convinced that this jury of denim-clad peers did the right thing, with the utmost of care, thoughtfulness, and integrity.