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How A Multnomah County Grand Jury is Chosen

Last month I was called up for jury duty and with 25 others was picked for the grand jury pool. I took notes before escaping via a medical excuse. Here's how the process works:
We made our way from the main jury pool room up to a courtroom on the fifth floor, the only one that hasn't been divided or remodeled.Portraits of dead white male lawmakers glared down at us from the red and green marble walls between huge gray pillars. All the furniture was made of thick oak and looked incredibly uncomfortable. We took seats on the uncushioned pews in the spectator area and the clerk counted heads. When everyone had arrived Judge John Whitmeier entered and began lecturing us on grand juries and our roles as juriors. He was attired in his judicial robes which look like those worn by people graduating school or perhaps something the Pilgrims might have invented.

He said that grand juries were originally set up to protect the innocent from false charges; that the juries decide if the the district attorney has enough evidence to proceed with a case. How warped this process has become in these dark days!

I learned that Multnomah County runs three grand juries year-round unlike smaller municipalities which may only seat a jury for a few months. Jury #1 hears cases of violent person-to-person felonies, #2 considers felony drug charges and #3 is for felony property crimes.

Each juror serves for four weeks, eight hours every weekday. There's no slack time like with regular jury duty and it pays a little more, $25 per day. An employer has no legal right to prevent jury service. Jurors are pulled from the regular jury pool at random, then seven plus two alternates are chosen from that group. If there hadn't been enough candidates from our group, another batch would have been called upstairs.

Judge Whitmeier told us that the usual reasons for being excused from service were:
*Medical
*Financial hardship
*Child or elder care issues
I had no time to think up an imaginative excuse or political pronouncement because he called me first so I used the medical one-I have panic attacks if confined indoors too long (it's true). Just looking at all that marble and those hard oak seats nearly set me off right then. He didn't interrogate me or anyone else who asked to be excused and nine people qualified before he reached the end of the list. One woman told me later that she was happy to escape her boring job for a month. I was just happy to leave that cold marble room.

Jury Duty 07.Jun.2006 08:17

PDX Guy

I'm sorry you get panic attacts, I really do. If you needed to be excused then you needed to me, that's that. HOWEVER, maybe if you (and others like you who read indymedia) were willing to do your duty we wouldn't be where we are today. I don't know your financial situation or what it would mean to you to be on jury duty, but I cannot imagine any person who believes in justice would not try to get on to a grand jury so that they might be able to correct the course of action we are taking.

Personally, I read your story with great sadness that you decided to try to get out of the duty. When you become so pasive, they've already won. Thanks a bunch.

PDX guy bite me 07.Jun.2006 10:04

sd

The grand jury I was picked for was #1, the one dealing with violent person-to-person crimes. I not only would have had panic attacks from being stuck in the courtroom but the content of the evidence probably would have also triggered my PTSD. But I guess I'm faking it and am just a wimp-thanks for your understanding.

Read Your Own Words 07.Jun.2006 11:10

PDX Guy

"I had no time to think up an imaginative excuse or political pronouncement because he called me first so I used the medical one."

I also have panic attacks 08.Jun.2006 15:19

need my space

I understand and sympathize with you about your panic attacks. I also have them when I am in a situation out of my control, like receiving a summons for jury duty. In fact, I just received one today for grand jury in my state. That's why I'm searching info and ran into your article.

About 10 years ago I was excused from jury duty by the judge due to having nightmares and panic attacks about the trial. That was to have been a sequestered trial for a gang-related murder. While I didn't relish being called for jury duty before that case, since then even receiving the summons freaks me out.

I was called again the next year, but was excused because they summoned me again in less than a year. The selection process is supposedly random, but I have been summoned 8 times in 20 years, while I know people who have never been summoned or only called once in that time. Feels like there is a target on me.

A couple of years later I was called again. I got a medical excuse from my doctor, but the woman who works in the jury commission office has no patience or understanding of the problem. She had to accept the excuse, but she told me it was only temporary and that there was treatment available that I should be getting. When did she get her medical license, and why is still working for the jury commission?! I'll make that decision with my own doctor, thank you very much.

That held for about 5 years. Last year I received a questionnaire to determine who was eligible. Knowing that that woman wouldn't accept my excuse again, I settled for requesting service nearly a year later. Hatched a plot to move out of the county in that time.

Well, inertia claims another victim. I'm still here, and I just received my summons for grand jury beginning next month. Instead of one day or one trial, now I'm looking at 6 months of service. I guess I'll have to report and hope for a sympathetic judge to excuse me. Until then I'll increase my dose of SAM-e and try to get through the next month.

I admire people who have the emotional stability to do what needs to be done. I would certainly prefer to be like that rather than live with these feelings of dread and panic. People who have never experienced panic attacks or PTSD don't understand how disabling they are. For those of you reading this who are fortunate to not relate, please open your hearts and understand that we are no different than people with physical challenges. There are some things that we are unable to accomplish, no matter how much we wish we could.

Thanks for sharing your experience, sd.

Agree with PDX Guy 09.Jun.2006 10:24

Please read and consider...

I must comment for any others who read this and hope that when you are called you will WANT to do your civic duty! We need thinking progressive folks to sit on Grand Juries now more than ever.

I did a stint (#2 property crimes, and a few #1 violent, and #3 drug) a few years ago and learned the inner workings of your legal system and how the police operate. It was very informative, and most importantly you have the chance to deal fairly with someone's life who hangs in the balance. No one can be charged with a crime until the DA presents the evidence to the Grand Jury and the Juries agree there is enough evidence to bring an indictment against that individual.

I was able to get a gal off who should never had been accused, grill sleazy pawn brokers, question security guards about bothering kids because "the way they were dressed", and questioned a measure 11 crime that we did not want to give to a young man. But, most importantly I tried not to give a "rubber stamp". You have the power to call witnesses, ask for more evidence and question the system. At the end I was able to tell Mr. Shrunk how I didn't think spending excessive energy on drug crimes, esp. cannabis, was worth all the money and expense to our city and spoke of wanting rehab and not jail...in person, and he actually agreed, and said that was where the city wanted to go. At the end of every Grand Jury he comes and speaks to you, so you can raise your concerns about our legal system right to the top.

You will also learn how important it is to work within congress, because they PASS the laws and the court system Enforces those laws. So sign those petitions and work to change the law to be the system we the people want.

Lastly, my jury consisted of 7 people, 2 who were barely competent and very shallow thinkers, and one whom I sincerely believe was retarded. So, there really were only 4 folks who were able to think through the issues clearly-very scary if it was your life's course being determined.

So, PLEASE do your civic duty, we need you now more than ever!!!

My Grand Jury Duty 10.Jun.2006 19:56

Paul Berg

I got stuck on a grand jury in Multnomah County for a month (Feb. 2005). It was a big waste of time, that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

The jury pay barely cover the cost of lunch each day.

Reimbursement for transportation was only equal to that of bus fare. From where I lived, I wasn't about to spend a couple hours riding the bus each day. So, I drove and parked downtown each day.

Our Grand Jury #3's room was a south side addition to the top of the courthouse, it was so hot in the room, we had the windows wide opened in the month of February. One of the DA's had a fear of birds, so we had to keep the windows closed and shades down when she was presenting a case.

I figure I was out of pocket $150 to $200 by the end of the month. If I had known beforehand, that the penalty for failure to appear for jury duty was $50, I would had gladly paid it.

annon 16.Jun.2006 17:12

great work

we all need to show up and be heard. a hardship no doubt but having a voice...priceless. I skirted jury duty once....never again. Keep the pressure on the bastards!!!!!!!!!!!

I got out of grand jury today for panic attacks 02.Aug.2006 22:40

anon juror #86

WEll I was sweating and having dizzy spells as I sat in Judge Ito's court room today. I told him I had a medical excuse and told him that being in his court room our bldg was triggering my anxiety and near a panic attack. I wanted to conquer and stay and not feel defeated. I cried I could not help but be overcome with anxiety and fear to stay another second in that room. I am now excused. Thank God. I suffer everyday and have not found medicine that works yet. I hope I get cured.