On scheduling jury duty

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About 4 months back I received a notice informing me that I had been selected for jury duty. [Strangely, I've lived in California for 15 years and never been selected, whereas I know people who've been selected multiple times. I don't have any statistical data and clearly random results can look like they have patterns, but I still wonder about the quality of their PRNG.] It intersected with a time when I was scheduled to be in Barcelona giving a talk so I availed myself of the one-time deferral. Of course this turned out to be a mistake because I was of course just as busy the new week they scheduled me for....

In case you have never had jury duty in Santa Clara county, the system works like this. You're required to be available all week but you're only on "standby". This means that you get a jury group number and have to call a number or check a Web site to see if you have to come in. Here's how this works:

  1. The letter says "check back Friday after 5 for instructions".
  2. Friday at 6 you check and it says "check back Monday between 11 and 12."
  3. Monday at 11 you check and it says "check back Monday after 5."
  4. Monday after 5 you check and it says "check back Tuesday between 11 and 12."

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I actually managed to make it through the whole week this way without ever having to go to the courthouse. I guess that's good, but on the downside I could never plan more than a few hours ahead and had to inconvenience a bunch of people who wanted to meet with me when I had to keep saying "I could maybe meet first thing in the morning but I won't know till after 5". I'm to

I found the whole process really inconvenient and I've heard from others that they had the same experience. I would have much rather just had to spend a single day at the courthouse but be guaranteed that that was the only day (unless I was selected for a trial, of course). The problem isn't so much missing a day of work (especially since I own a laptop) but rather not being able to plan anything all week.

Designing a system like this involves balancing a number of variables, so it's hard to back out exactly what the constraints must have been, but I'm guessing it's something like:

  • It's dramatically more inconvenient for people to spend a day waiting in court than it is to not be able to plan their schedule more than 4 business hours in advance.
  • The marginal utility of being in the call-in pool for a week is not much worse than the marginal utility of being in it twice for 2-3 days.
  • It's very bad not to have enough jurors on any given day.

It seems to me that these explain most of the major features of the system, namely that:

  • They have you on call for a week rather than there for a day.
  • That the period is a week rather than having more frequent callups for two days at a time.
  • That they have to make constant adjustments to titrate the number of jurors.

Of course, another explanation is that nobody thought very hard about it and since it's illegal for you not to do what you're told there's not a lot of incentive to think about what's convenient for jurors, so we get whatever system we have.


Move north 5 or so miles, and you will join those of us in San Mateo county, where the rule is "1 day, 1 trial". You are required to check in (possibly in person, but likely only by phone) for only one day. If you are picked for a trial, you serve for at most one trial. Some history describing one day/one trial might interest you.

Interestingly, in Orange County (CA) some jurors are designated as "reporting jurors" who are summoned to report on a specific date and thus only have to come to the court house on a single day (unless selected for a trial, obviously). However, other jurors are designated as "call-in jurors" who are on-call for 5 days (presumably to handle shortages). A call-in juror may, by contacting the court house, elect to instead be a "reporting juror." Perhaps Santa Clara county also has this option?

Both of these systems are better than one of the systems in New Mexico that some of my friends have been called on. They are considered "on-call" for 6 months, needing to go into the courthouse in person at least 1 day a week for jury selection for the whole period. A person could possibly be on as many trials as can begin during the 6 month period (I think this could be as large as about 30).

I personally have never been called in the the 10 years I've lived here, though I actually would like to be because being involved in the justice process interests me.

What are you saying Eric? That the government
is inefficient? Surprise surprise. I think your
last educated guess is the most likely. They just
don't care. There is no incentive to make things
more convenient for us or even more efficient.
Makes me wonder why people want socialized

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