A few years ago, Lakewood Playhouse did a remarkable production of “Twelve Angry Men,” a play about deliberations in a murder trial. I had recently served on a jury and understood the portrayal of the tension and the drama as a dozen people labored for a verdict.
My duty started on a sunny Tacoma day in late June. I came expecting/hoping to be dismissed for the day so I could go to work. But my number came up, and I was chosen as juror No. 4 of 13 on a drug case.
On day two of the trial, juror No. 13, our alternate, got sick and was excused. The rest of us listened to testimony that didn’t resemble “Law and Order” or any of the slick television crime-show trials. It wasn’t filled with drama.
What we heard was a methodical building of a case by the prosecutor and a methodical questioning of the building blocks by the defense attorney. We spent more time in the tiny jury room, crammed around a table with our books and crossword puzzles, than we did the courtroom.
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On the morning of day four, the last day of the trial, juror No. 7 called the clerk from the emergency room where she was having an allergic reaction to something and couldn’t breathe. Because we didn’t have a full jury, the case had to be recessed. Because the prosecuting attorney was going on vacation, we had to wait a week to reconvene.
A week later, we found ourselves crammed into the jury room once again. As we waited, I counted heads. We had twelve jurors. Unfortunately, the defense attorney was now sick, so we were sent home again.
At this point, I wondered if this was not the trial of the century, but rather the trial that would last a century. Two days later, we reconvened. This time I counted eleven of us. The clerk finally came in to tell us that juror No. 10 had been in a car crash on his way to jury duty. He would be delayed, but the trial would resume as soon as he arrived.
Two hours later — at last — we had a full jury, a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a defendant. The testimony and final arguments wrapped up in early afternoon, and we were sent away to deliberate.
We were tired of being cramped in our little room, tired of the delays and uncertainty, and eager to get back to our regular lives. Two jurors had jobs that didn’t support jury duty, and every day they sat in the courtroom was a day of lost wages.
One juror had small children at home and every day she sat in the courtroom was a day that she had to pay for a babysitter. I was exhausted from trying to maintain my job around the jury hours — running to the office in the late afternoons, checking e-mails and voicemails when I could.
Despite the desire to flee from that room, we all took our duty seriously. We struggled with the meaning of the charges, and we struggled with the evidence. Some of the discussion was not pretty. Eleven of us felt the defendant was clearly guilty; one juror did not. He kept saying, “I’m just not sure.”
Tempers flared. We needed to take some “time-outs” to cool down and discuss his concerns. But in the end, it was an amazing process to be part of. To this day, I am struck by the integrity and sense of responsibility everyone on the jury displayed.
A diverse community had gathered to do its best to sort out whether laws had been broken. A diverse community pulled together to make a decision that was acceptable to all. In the end, I believe justice was served.
I think jury duty should be mandatory for all our legislators. It’s a forum where they can learn the value of listening to evidence, listening to each other, reaching across the table and assuring that they truly represent the people they serve.
Linda Norlander of Tacoma is one of six News Tribune reader columnists who wrote for this page in 2017. This is her last column. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.