A few years ago I was called up for jury duty for the first time. It was an exciting moment. I thought of Amos's words: "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
Here was an opportunity for me to exercise my wisdom in the service of my country, a chance to do what the Old Testament prophets prescribed. I was stoked!
So on a chilly Monday morning I caught the bus into town and found my way to the District Court. I was amazed at the number of people who turned up to serve with me. At least 300 other people were milling around the jury assembly area which resembled the departure lounge of a large airport. Apparently the authorities summoned far more people than they actually needed. Perhaps they expected some no-shows.
While waiting, we sipped instant coffee from styrofoam cups until a court supervisor arrived to explain how the system worked. We would get paid $61 per day for our time, plus bus fares. (They were getting my wisdom for a bargain.) We were shown a 10-minute video of what to expect as potential jurors. Then a clerk began to pull 40 names from a rotating barrel. Surprisingly, my name wasn't among them. The fortunate forty were led away to a courtroom, there to be whittled still further to the required number of twelve.
Then 40 more names were drawn for another trial, and still I was not one of the Elect. We unchosen ones were told crisply that we were not needed that day and to return tomorrow. Providence must have been saving the best jurors until Tuesday.
The next morning I arrived early, checked in, drank more coffee, and waited while thirty more unfamiliar names were drawn from the barrel. Another lot gone. By 9.30 depression had started to set in.
One of The Twelve
Then I heard my name. How good it felt to be needed at last! Sheryl, the clerk who would be our minder for the trial, led our group to the back of an empty, wood-panelled courtroom, and said just twelve of us would be selected at random. I held my breath.
A clerk whispered something to her. The trial was delayed and now wouldn't start until 11:45am. So it was back to the Assembly area for more coffee. Sheryl said we could leave the building, as long as we were back by 11:30.
So I went shopping. Two hours later I was back at the courthouse laden with merchandise. Sheryl, who was waiting for us, told us to sit tight while she found out what was going on. Justice, it seemed, was in no great hurry to get started.
At 11:45 our minder escorted the thirty of us back the courtroom where a judge and some lawyers were now waiting. It was time for the final ballot, and my name was called first. Providence had got it right. I was now one of The Twelve!
After the other candidates left, the judge explained the case to us new jurors. It was likely to be a three-day trial of someone who had been charged with armed robbery. The judge reminded us we were there to decide who was telling the truth and we were to pay attention to the body language of all the witnesses.
"I've been in some trials," he growled, "where, frankly, the jury seemed to lose the plot." (Of course, our team would never lose such a thing.)
In a back room we had five minutes to choose our foreman, a role not everyone aspired to. We eventually elected a young legal secretary who was showing a fair amount of cleavage. We figured she at least knew court procedures.
Back in the courtroom there was more delay. It turned out one of the prosecution witnesses could not be there till 2pm. The judge, who liked to run a punctual court room, was not impressed. but at least we had some coffee.
Fast forward to 2pm. Escorted by Sheryl we returned to our jury seats. All the lawyers were there, plus the defendant.
"All rise," said the court supervisor as the judge entered, and each of us took an oath to uphold the truth.
During the next two hours the police prosecutor presented the case to us, bringing in several witnesses. The defence lawyers merely yawned, knowing their turn would come the next day.
We were dismissed and told to return on Wednesday. On the bus home I reflected on the honour I was experiencing. Had I found my true calling?
The next morning we jurors were back in the ante room, where another delay was announced. We were starting to know one another by now, and discussed the case over more coffee.
"I reckon," said one, "the guy's mate dobbed him in."
Sheryl came to get us at 11am, but the judge had some bad news for us.
"I'm afraid," he said, apologetically, "that this case will have to be postponed until February. You are no longer needed."
Just like that. Stunned, we filed out to the back room where Sheryl told us we were free to go. She could not reveal any details, but we surmised there had been an irregularity with one of the prosecution witnesses.
By now it was close to lunchtime, and we'd get paid for half a day. In fact, we would be paid for 2-1/2 days in total, courtesy of the New Zealand taxpayer. Justice did not come cheap in Godzone.
However things were in OT times, the "never-failing stream" in Auckland seemed a bit log-jammed.
I guess the Lord had something else in mind for me. I was never summoned again.
Julie Belding is a freelance editor, ESOL teacher and grandmother of five.
Julie Belding's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/julie-belding.html