Jury Duty: Tips on what and what not to do
It's an invitation most people aren't thrilled to receive.
"Greetings," it starts in capitalized letters. "You are hereby notified to appear at 115 N. Bridge."
While jury duty provides you with a legitimate reason to miss work, it also means sitting for hours with strangers without much to quell your boredom. It may also mean deciding someone's fate.
Jury duty, though, is an integral part of democracy, said Court-at-Law 2 Judge Daniel Gilliam.
While cases may not be as dramatic as those on the "Law and Order" television show, "it's important to the due process of law," he said.
"I generally tell them that I want to lower their expectations," Gilliam said. "It does proceed a lot slower and is more tedious."
Here is some advice for the next time you are summoned:
Who is called:
The District Clerk's office summons 450 Victoria County residents every two weeks to hear civil, misdemeanor and felony cases.
The Justice of the Peace Precinct 3's office summons anywhere from 60-75 county residents once a month. A Justice of the Peace presides over misdemeanor cases punishable by a fine only or in civil matters where the amount in controversy does not exceed $10,000.
Where to go:
If summoned for a civil, misdemeanor and felony court, go to 115 N. Bridge St. at 8 a.m.
Do not arrive too early, as doors do not open until 8 a.m. Park downtown, even in the limited-time parking area.
"A lot of people panic because it says two hours" on the spaces' signs, District Clerk Cathy Stuart said. "We have an agreement with the city where they waive those fines."
What not to wear:
Take off baseball caps and refrain from sporting anything with obscene language on it.
"Probably wearing a Budweiser T-shirt (as a juror) for someone accused of a DWI would not be appropriate," said Robert Whitaker, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3. "That person could be ordered to go change clothes."
To keep a line at one of the two metal detectors at the courthouse running smoothly, wear little jewelry and take off boots or belts.
What not to bring:
The Victoria County Sheriff's Office will confiscate any objects that can be used to inflict pain.
But people try to take them in anyway, said Sgt. Bobbie Daniel of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office.
"It's constant. If you have 100 people who come in during a day, 85-95 percent of the time you're going to take something," she said, noting the items, such as knives and pepper spray, are placed in a wooden box, and most people don't remember to retrieve them afterward.
One man came in with a cane that was actually a sword. He was subsequently prosecuted because he intentionally concealed it, Daniel said.
Cellphones should also be silenced, turned off or left at home because they are distracting, Whitaker said.
A constable protects Whitaker's office, which now has a glass shield and doorway to protect clerks dealing with the public.
What happens if you forget:
Not showing up could land you a fine anywhere between $100 to $1,000.
You could qualify for an exemption if you are over 70, a student at a public or private high school or are an active duty member of the U.S. Military, among other things.
Deputy district clerks can reschedule jury service if you already made vacation plans.
What you get compensated/how long you should expect to be there:
Jurors receive about $6 for the first day and $34 for every day after. In 2012, Victoria County paid jurors $75,810.47, and the state reimbursed it $46,508.
For those hearing testimony in civil, misdemeanor and felony cases, clear your schedule for a week.
Whitaker strives to get people on their way by lunchtime.
"I cannot recall a case that lasted more than one day," he said.
Sources: Victoria County District Clerk, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, Victoria County Auditor's Office, Victoria County Sheriff's Office