Weekly comments from Dale Martin

Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
October 19, 2018 12:00 p.m.

Dale Martin

Earlier this month I received a summons for jury duty in Nassau County. It seems as if such as summons is bemoaned by most recipients. I felt privileged to participate in this civic duty. Many years ago, I had served as a jury foreman in a civil trial, and despite the subject of that trial- a dispute involving low income housing tax credits- I found it to be an exciting experience, and looked forward to serve as a juror again.

I arrived at the County’s Robert M. Foster Justice Center near I-95 a little earlier than the appointed time, looking to meet Mr. Steve Murphy, General Manager of the City’s Golf Course, who had also received a jury summons for the same day. We met in the parking lot and followed the stream of other potential jurors into the courthouse. Our opportunity for conversation didn’t last long as once we entered the appropriate room with others, we were directed to different rows to fill gaps in the rows of chairs.

After completing a short application for jury compensation, it was interesting to watch as other citizens filed into the room. From my perspective, it was a “Parade of America,” representing a unity of purpose for government rather than the hatred of differences for politics during this election season. I recognized a few others in the roughly one hundred or so that had “won the jury summons lottery” [note to self- remember to purchase Mega Millions ticket this evening]. The people in the room were subdued, but the environment did have a anticipatory “buzz.” Everyone was appropriately dressed in recognition of the solemnity of the duty.

After all had gathered, Clerk of the Courts and Comptroller John Crawford welcomed everyone and provided an outline of how the morning process would proceed. Following his comments, a video presentation briefly described the importance of the jury system as enshrined in our federal and state governments. A Nassau County Sheriff Sergeant then instructed us on the protocol and process of the actual selection, conducted under the authority of Judge Foster.

Judge Foster arrived and again thanked everyone for participating. He indicated that with only one trial scheduled on the court calendar, the need for jurors would be minimal, but still necessary. Judge Foster also recognized that the need to serve as a juror could possibly be disruptive to some due to a variety of factors. He invited anyone that would be so disrupted to stand and form a line against the wall and he would personally hear their pleas.

It was a small stampede to get to the wall, with about thirty people moving quickly to get in line. After the line was formed, Judge Foster looked sternly at those standing and with an quiet but emphatic tone, lamented how many people sought to forego their civic duty. After a short pause to allow for second thoughts among those seeking dismissal (which no one reconsidered), the queue moved one-by-one before Judge Foster.

When I had originally sat in the room, I had been positioned immediately in front of the podium behind which Judge Foster now stood. During the surge to the wall, though, I had to move to a different seat on the opposite side of the room. As each person stepped before the judge, I could only hear small portions of the discussions between Judge Foster and jurors. In some cases, the judge quickly dismissed a juror (although the juror was required to offer another month in which to return for jury selection, so the dismissal was apparently rarely permanent). In other cases, a lengthier discussion ensued. A few requests were denied and the juror slunk back to a chair. In one case, the Judge was very animated and exasperated in his dismissal of a juror. I’m sure that judges could write a lengthy book on the reasons offered for excusal.

After the line had been culled, the remaining jurors were told that eighteen were to be randomly selected and instructed to report at the designated place and time for further jury activity. The eighteen would be reduced to seven (six jurors and an alternate) to actually participate in the trial. If not selected as one of the eighteen, jury service was completed.

I wasn’t selected as one of the eighteen, so my jury duty came to an end after about two hours of service. Stephen Patrick Murphy of the City’s Golf Course, though, gets to continue after his selection.

Jury duty is one of two principal civic duties and should not be shirked. The other principal duty is voting. Don’t ignore that duty, either. Vote on November 6 (or earlier).