It might surprise you to know that some New Yorkers actually embrace jury duty.
While the ranks of New York’s unemployed have been growing — and most of them despise jury duty all the more because they want the time to search for jobs — there is a segment of the jobless who see dollar signs balancing the scales of justice.
These discouraged job seekers are eager to rack up the $40-a-day jurors’ stipend to augment their unemployment benefits and profess interest in being picked for a good, long case.
“People are more willing to sit on longer trials,” which most potential jurors long to avoid, said a Manhattan court clerk not authorized to speak to the press.
Of course, anxious job seekers and contractual workers often beg to be excused from serving because they are too preoccupied with trying to pay the rent, said Irene Laracuenta, case management coordinator for New York County’s supervising jury clerk.
They claim “they’re stressed and depressed – very depressed,” said Laracuenta.
Attorneys have noticed that an increasing number of prospective jurors respond, “I’m unemployed,” when asked their professions, noted Arthur Aidala, an NYC criminal defense attorney.
Being unemployed does not make a person more or less attractive as a juror – unless the prospect is too distraught to concentrate on the case.
“You don’t want anyone on a jury who is not paying attention,” Aidala explained.
But jurors professing extreme stress are another matter: Plaintiffs’ lawyers want to avoid seating someone reluctant to serve because “they could disappear during a trial,” and an expensive mistrial could result, added Robert Kelner, a senior partner at Kelner and Kelner.
People have always tried to make themselves seem biased or otherwise undesirable to avoid being seated on a lengthy case, but the recession has upped the ante for some people not to be away from their desks.
One prospective juror, a sophisticated mergers and acquisitions attorney, told Robert Kelner that if she were selected, “I’d give you anything you asked for,” because she found the plaintiff’s story so emotionally wrenching.
“She was lying through her teeth,” exclaimed Kelner. “She just wanted to get back to her mergers and acquisitions job."
By the numbers:
1.5 million: Citizens eligible to serve in Manhattan.
290,000: Summonses mailed for petit jury
30,000: Summonses mailed for grand jury duty
2,584: Number of hearings in 2009 for people who blew off juror summonses, up nearly 17 percent from 2005