NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
A summons for jury duty in Cleveland County District Court arrived in the mailbox a few weeks ago. Like many, I greeted the news with a mixture of dread and curiosity. Several civic-minded colleagues declared me lucky to be called. I wasn’t quite so sure.
“Every citizen has duty to serve as a juror,” stated the summons letter from Court Clerk Rhonda Hall. This is something we’ve all heard in the few venues where civic duty is still discussed. For me, having the opportunity to watch our nation’s legal system at work first-hand was both fascinating and humbling.
It is “commanded and summoned,” hundreds of Cleveland County citizens packed into the courtroom last Monday morning to learn our fates. Several juries were being empaneled. I was assigned to Associate District Judge Stephen Bonner’s courtroom, and later chosen to serve on a six-member jury to hear a deprived child case.
The five-day experience was life changing.
All of the county employees involved in the case — clerks, bailiffs, Sheriff’s deputies, assistant district attorneys and the judge — were consummate professionals. Day in and out, these folks witness the most heart-wrenching human dramas, yet they persevere, doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly by the system.
This is an especially poignant task when it comes to kids. After the verdict Judge Bonner explained to jurors that he is on call 24/7 to act on matters related to children. The gravity of his responsibility deepened in my mind upon learning that Cleveland County has around 450 children in DHS custody, most of whom will interact with the legal system.
At the end of the trial, perhaps the most meaningful impression for me was the honor of having served on a jury with five such attentive, thoughtful, and insightful people. During deliberation, they wrestled deeply with the facts as presented, tempered by their convictions; each member understanding that the stakes could not have been higher for either side.
In these times of cynicism, bitter partisanship and public apathy, when many have lost faith in the rule of American law, it is heartening indeed to see the system work as intended and to experience the commitment of both citizens and public employees who ensure that it does.