A few weeks ago, I received notice that I was “On call” to serve as a juror in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia. The notice explained that for a 2 week period I could possibly be called in to serve. It further requires the juror to call in every day during the 2 week period to see if your will have to report. I called in and I was instructed to report on the first day. As a lawyer, I am more than familiar with the process. I have tried jury trials and I have been called to serve as a juror.
This time was different from my past experiences, mainly because I am a mother now. I primarily work from home, so that I may be with my daughter as much as I can. So, my daughter only attends school a couple days a week and the remaining time she is home with me. As any parent should know, trying to secure child care for your child is no easy task. But trying to do so when you cannot give a definite time frame as to how long or on what days you will need a sitter is no easy feat. The request of my sitter went like this: “Hey, I might need you to keep my kid beginning Monday of next week and possibly for a 2 week period, but I really don’t know for sure until I get to court. Are you available to keep her?”
On the day I was called to report for jury duty, the court staff played an informational video for the jurors. In this video, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said “we don’t just want people with time on their hands, like housewives . . .” to serve as jurors. Now, I may not be a housewife in the traditional sense, but I am a mom who has pretty much stayed home with my child since she was born and I take real offense to Justice O’Connor’s statement. My experience as a stay at home mom or a work at home mom has been that I work more and harder than I have at any job I have ever held. The days that I do work away from home and leave my daughter with a sitter are equal to a vacation in my book.
I wasn’t the only mom in court that day. Another mother was also there for juror duty carrying several bags. One of which contained a breast pump. She asked to be excused because she was still breast feeding and caring for her 14 week old child, but the court staff refused to help her. She was told to take it up with the judge. Her breast pump required the use of a power outlet, and none of the restrooms on the floor of the courthouse we were positioned had outlets. So, she was told to explore another floor and there might be one there.
Once we got into the court room for the jury selection process, the judge asked if anyone had any reason why they would find it problematic to serve. The mother with the pump stood up and explained to the court that she had a problem securing child care for her two children, ages 14 weeks and 3 years old and that she would likely not be able to do so for the entire week if she were chosen to serve. She did not mention the fact that she was breast feeding, perhaps because she did not feel comfortable telling the judge that fact in front of a room full of strangers. The judge asked if she had family that could watch her kids. She responded that she did not. She further explained that she has a sitter, but the sitter only works part time. The judge then asked why the sitter cannot work full time! She then responded that she and her husband cannot afford to pay the sitter full time. The judge finally responded “well, you might just have to make arrangements.” I was mortified. I could not believe that the court would be so insensitive.
The mother was finally excused, primarily because she told one of the bailiffs that she need to take a break so she could go and pump. The bailiff told the judge that the mother had to pump and that she would need frequent breaks during the day to do so. Most judges don’t want to interrupt trials for frequent breaks, so my guess is that judge agreed to dismiss her because of her need to pump, more so than her inability to secure child care.
Now, I know that we as citizens have a duty to serve as jurors. But is there no understanding for the difficulty of being a parent and securing child care especially for children who have not reached school age? We as a society have to do better. The most important thing many of us do is raise children. If being a parent is not given the importance it so rightly deserves, what does that say about our society?