America's attention has been monopolized by the election this week, which would make it the natural focus of my column. But, rather than throw a few more drops in the ocean of election commentary, I will instead focus on another civic function: jury duty.
In the midst of our national election, I recently heard two cafe-goers arguing over this civic duty — specifically, trying to discern the best way of avoiding it.
The likelihood of being called to serve looms over us like a specter that ranks up there with root canals, tax audits or perhaps being hit by a bus.
Given this view of jury duty we, like most of American society, tend to respond to our summons with one all-important question: how can we get out of serving?
Our quest for the perfect excuse conjures up levels of creativity to rival the skills of our culture's best artists, poets and authors.
Here are a few examples of creative jury duty excuses, brought to you courtesy of the internet, that have actually been used by potential jurors. And no, I do not recommend using any of these perhaps amusing, but certainly disturbing, attempts at jury-dodging.
• Nonrefundable plane tickets are a popular excuse. Apparently, prospective jurors have been known to make these reservations during "bathroom breaks" at the courthouse.
• In more than one instance, a member of the jury pool has claimed to be a clairvoyant, who would therefore know whether a person was guilty or innocent, and thus be incapable of impartiality.
• A Los Angeles zookeeper claimed that she needed to be excused because she had to bottle-feed a baby giraffe. And yes, she was excused from jury duty.
• In a particularly heart-warming instance, a man claimed that his uncle was dying, and that he needed to be available at a moment's notice. Why all the urgency? Well, in the event of the beloved uncle's demise, he would need to beat his cousins to the old man's tool collection.
• Doctors' notes are a popular and often surefire method of avoiding jury duty. In a peculiar twist, some prefer to offer veterinarians' notes, claiming that they must provide constant care for their pets.
• The Denver Post recorded an example in which a man claimed that his "stunning handsomeness would influence the proceedings." He turned out to be a lawyer and was excused, thereby saving the court from hours of basking in the glow of his irresistible charm.
• And, best for last: a woman claimed to be exempt from jury duty because she had been a murder victim. The judge made her serve anyway, as she seemed to have recovered from her temporary bout with death.
If you're having trouble coming up with one of these creative claims to exemption, do not fret. There are a wealth of sites on the internet to help you evade your duty.
A British site recognizes jury duty as "a sacred privilege ... a duty to those who live in those societies lucky enough to enjoy the right to trial by jury." Of course, the site then goes on to offer a free service that prepares foolproof excusal letters, promised to get you excused from your "sacred privilege."
If that takes too much effort, you can download a software package (for a small fee) that offers excuses to get out of everything from jury duty to military service and unwanted relationships.
But, before you try any of these methods to evade your civic duty, I'd urge you to consider this: serving out your time on a jury is one of the few ways in which you can play a direct role in the operation of our republic.
For most of us, the only other chance to hold a personal stake in our Constitution comes in the voting booth.
I'm not denying the inherent inconvenience of sitting in an uncomfortable chair eight hours a day for virtually no compensation. But, inconvenience aside, we must embrace the fact that our service, and our willingness to serve, is the cornerstone of our judicial system and the rights and liberties that it protects.
After all, they wouldn't call it duty if it wasn't essential, and if didn't come at a cost.