LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Jury duty is important service

By Dan Boggs Gardendale

The notice said I had to be in the jury room on the third floor at 9:30. Leaving home early I snagged one of the coveted parking spaces across the street from the courthouse. I made my way through security, up the elevator and entered the empty jury room on the third floor. Plainly furnished and having seen better days the jury room’s appearance belied its sacred mission. A vague memory of the sixth amendment to the US Constitution beckoned me to call it up on my IPhone. ‘In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…’. It struck me as I sat in that jury room I was accomplishing exactly what the US Constitution called for. I recalled the oath I took as a young man of 18 to uphold and defend the Constitution. I realized in that worn, uncomfortable, somewhat drab jury room I was fulfilling the oath taken so many years ago. As important as tending the great atomic heart of the USS Enterprise was this simple act of showing up to the third floor of the County Courthouse. The room became more uncomfortable as other potential jurors filed in. It filled to overflowing. All chairs were filled and the walls were lined with every possible kind of person from Ector County; young, old, tattooed, bushy headed, bald, professionals, working class, white, black, Hispanic and Asian. They were all there. All jammed into that room fulfilling their duty as citizens. I asked the gentleman seated next to me why he believed he was there. “I have to. This is a summons and we have to obey it.” I replied, “Yes, that is true but what you are doing was laid down long before we were born. In this room, right now you are fulfilling the mandate of the Constitution of the United States of America. Because of it, you and I sit here this morning, waiting to judge someone that is like us as fairly as possible.” He thought a moment and said, “This is the first time I have had to come for jury duty and I never actually thought of it that way.”

Friends, we need to think of it in that way. When you are waiting your turn to be selected there is someone else that may be desperately innocent waiting to tell his or her story in hopes of justice. Conversely, there may be someone desperately guilty hoping for even handed, fair treatment. I have heard it said in the past that the Constitution is a living document. I disagreed. But on March 23 of 2018 in a warm, cramped room on the third floor of the Ector County Courthouse in Odessa, Texas I think I heard it breathing.