Jury Duty Is for Everyman - and Some Presidents

By Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Jury Duty Is for Everyman - and Some Presidents


Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Some states allow doctors, firefighters, and teachers to get out of jury duty because their jobs are too critical to go vacant for any length of time, but what if you're the leader of the free world?

Turns out, there is no exemption for that occupation - and President Bush says that's OK by him.

Summoned In December in McLennan County, Texas, where his ranch is located, Juror No. 286 couldn't make it because he was, well, too busy.

But because he believes it's an important civic responsibility, Mr. Bush has rescheduled his service. The local judge has offered him a little latitude, what with all that work back East, so the president can choose from several dates in the next six months. The first is Jan. 30.

"He could just show up, but I hope he lets us know with enough time to meet all the security issues," says Karen Matkin, district clerk of McLennan County. "We've never had to deal with anything like this before."

In fact, no modern court has had a sitting president on a jury. Ronald Reagan came the closest when he was summoned in the 1980s by Santa Barbara County, Calif. He was granted a deferment until he was out of office.

Former President Bill Clinton was willing to serve on a case involving a gang-related shooting when he was called in 2003, but the judge dismissed him. Then the defendant, convicted and sentenced to 18 years, appealed, claiming he was deprived of his rights because Mr. Clinton was excused.

This past November, Sen. John Kerry, Bush's rival in the last election, served as the jury foreman on a two-day personal- injury trial in Massachusetts. Senator Kerry said he enjoyed himself but was surprised he was not stricken from the case, having been a Middlesex County prosecutor in the 1970s.

Former federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani served as jury foreman on a $7 million personal-injury case while he was mayor of New York in 1999.

In fact, after New York passed a jury-reform law in 1995 that eliminated exemptions for lawyers and other professionals, Gov. George Pataki, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee were called, though none served.

Occasionally, movie and television stars get seated, like Oprah Winfrey did last summer in Charlotte, N.C. - although most lawyers say they avoid powerful personalities that might distract other jurors.

The fact is, most high-profile public servants simply ask to be excused, as was the case last year when US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was called for jury duty in Marlborough, Mass.

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