Photo by PoPville flickr user Nivad
We recently had grand jury service in Washington D.C., under which we were required to serve five days a week for five weeks.
We expected grand jury service to be hard on our personal and professional lives. But we didn’t anticipate being disrespected and ignored by the D.C. Superior Court and our elected official when we raised a concern.
It wasn’t until we were sworn in that we learned we would be prohibited from bringing electronic devices such as laptop computers, iPads, Kindles or iPods into the courthouse. We wrote a letter to Grand Jury Coordinator Cynthia Walicki, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton asking for the prohibition to be lifted. We never received a response.
We were confused when we learned about the prohibition on all electronic devices. We knew grand jurors weren’t allowed to have phones with cameras in the jury room. That was stated on the District of Columbia Courts website. But the website and handouts we were given said we could bring other electronic devices into the courthouse, such as laptops, which could be used during breaks.
The prohibition on all electronic devices was put in place several months ago apparently because some jurors used their devices while in session. (The language on the website was only recently updated to state the prohibition, after we complained.)
We respectfully wrote our letter asking for the prohibition to be lifted. We knew it was a long shot. But it is insulting we weren’t even given the courtesy of a response. Having access to our laptops would lessen the hardship of jury duty, enabling us to keep up with work when we weren’t in session.
The court also wasn’t forthcoming in letting us know that we could get special permission to access our phones during breaks. We eventually learned that we could request a letter granting permission to our phones, which were kept with security at the entrance to the courthouse. (Apparently, the court has also recently started restricting access to phones.)
We don’t think it’s fair to punish all grand jurors for the actions of a few bad apples. As citizens of D.C. we are obligated to serve grand jury duty. We’re happy to carry out our civic responsibility. But the D.C. Superior Court is making grand jury service much more of a hardship than it needs to be. Giving grand jurors access to laptops and phones during downtime would be a simple and important move. It’s too late for us as our service is over. But maybe new jurors will be able to change the court.
Warren Johnson Jr.