Jury Duty: How Can an LA Parent Cope with Jury Duty and Kids?

If you're a US citizen and a stay-at-home parent, you've probably experienced jury duty panic. We may like to imagine the day when we'll serve on a jury and become one of those all-important dozen people who hold together the fabric of our justice system, scrutinizing the facts and determining whether the glove fits, but our imaginations don't quite stretch to how we will do that and keep our kids fed, cared for, and driven to school at the same time. So how do we plan for the challenges of jury duty?

For starters, new moms can breathe easy; breastfeeding mothers are exempt from jury duty in California, as are primary, full-time care-givers of children under the age of five. You need to fill out the appropriate sections of your jury summons and mail the form back. It's a good idea to call the number on the summons and speak to someone who can help make sure that you've filled out the correct section with the correct wording, to avoid misunderstandings and repeat summons.

Parents of school-aged children have a tougher course, since stay-at-home moms of kids in school are not really the free agents that the system seems to assume. Jury duty panic sets in when we contemplate how on earth we can be in downtown LA from 8am-6pm, while our kids need to be dressed, fed, and driven to school, followed later by a drive to baseball in Brentwood, piano in Pasadena, or a round of homework in the waiting room at the dentist's office. Neither juror services nor the judge is likely to be moved by these dilemmas, but there are ways to take the pressure off.

The first thing to know is that jury duty can be postponed once to a time that is more practical for you, using the appropriate section on the back of the summons. The court's official position is that even stay-at-home moms should be able to come up with a week for jury duty sometime in the year. And this may be true—or it may not. So if postponing until summer break is not your family's solution, let's move on.

The next key variable worth knowing about is location. Your jury summons may well instruct you to report to the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, but you can request a transfer to a courthouse closer to your home. This might not seem like a big deal, but it can become the difference between driving your kids to school or not—which is why transfer requests by parents are generally granted. There is a space on the back of the jury summons for transfer requests; make sure to explain clearly where and at what time you need to bring your child to school, and be specific if you have no one else who can do it.

Depending on what time your child goes to school, this could still leave you with a tight morning—unless you take advantage of the handy option for online juror orientation. The first hour of jury duty is dedicated to orientation, and the presentation can be viewed in advance at home via the superior court's website. Follow the instructions on the website, and you will be given a reporting time one to two hours later, allowing you to feed, dress, and drive your child—and maybe even arrive at the courthouse with a cup of coffee in your hand. Note that the orientation can be done up to two weeks in advance, but shuts down at midnight on the Sunday night before your jury duty.

Depending on your community, local courthouse advantages can also include free wifi, public computer work stations, and—here's a nice one—lower crime rates. That's right; if your community has lower crime rates than downtown LA, you stand a better chance of being sent home without even serving on a jury. At the main court house there is steady supply of cases, but in the smaller communities this is not necessarily so. The official rule is "one day / one trial," which means that if you turn up to jury duty for a day and are not selected for a trial, you're finished for the year. If you are selected, of course, you're expected to serve for the duration of the trial.

The prospect of having this routine hanging over your head for a week might still be daunting, as you call the automated system each evening to find out whether or not the next morning is the day. At least having the morning school trip sorted is a big help, though, as is knowing that you'll be near your child's school in case of a Johnny-has-a-fever call; as long as you're still in the jury waiting room when you get the call (as jurors are for most of the day) you can ask for a postponement to go pick up a sick child. Also, if you wake up on a jury duty day to a child who needs the doctor, you can call the courthouse to postpone for a week.

The thing to remember is that the court remains flexible about the when and the where right up until you stand before a judge. Once the judge has you in his or her courtroom, your best chance of finishing your service in a day is if the defendant turns out to be that college roommate who still owes you $300 and stole your boyfriend. If that happens, you get the surprise bonus of telling a courtroom full of people what a skunk she was, before being excused from jury duty for the year, and going to pick up your kids from school!


Originally published May 12, 2012

Photo credit: USARJ via flickr

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