Monday, July 14, 2008

Jury Duty in Virginia

A local lady on our homeschool list is facing the same situation which is what made me think of sharing this here in hopes it would help another person.

A few years ago, I received a summons to appear as a potential jury member for federal court in Newport News. I was the mother of four minor children and on bedrest due to pregnancy at the time. We had no one to watch our children. We had just gone through Hurricane Isabel which damaged our home and property so our finances were very tight. My husband missing work was not an option. I also had a doctor's note for the bedrest.

I had found out about the state law (below) and also mentioned that when I called the court. The woman was extremely rude and told me that "Being a mother doesn't excuse you from jury duty." She told me the state law I found did not apply because it was federal court. She was threatening in her tone and I got the distinct impression from some of what she said that she was a working mother who had issues with those who chose to stay at home with theirs. She told me with or without the doctor's note, I had better find a babysitter and show up in court.

I searched the internet and read many stories of homeschooling mothers who had been in the same predicament. A few of them took their children to court. Most were excused. A couple of mothers were told to take their children home, find care for the children and show up on time the next day. One was held in contempt and fined for bringing hers.

I decided to try again, but wanted to get another person, so I wrote a letter to the judge's office. I also sent in a copy of the doctor's note that I was on bedrest with pregnancy. This letter got to the judge's clerk, who put it before the judge. The judge immediately excused me and I received the letter a few days later.

I called the judge's clerk (his contact info was in this second letter) to verify that I was excused. I shared with him what had happened when I called the first time. He told me that the best thing to do about jury duty was to write a letter to the judge so that it could be put before him. "No one can excuse you except for the judge." He also told me the lady I spoke to when I called the first time was known for being rude!

From the VA Code:

§ 8.01-341.1. Exemptions from jury service upon request.

Any of the following persons may serve on juries in civil and criminal cases but shall be exempt from jury service upon his request:

8. A person who has legal custody of and is necessarily and personally responsible for a child or children 16 years of age or younger requiring continuous care by him during normal court hours, or any mother who is breast-feeding a child,

9. A person who is necessarily and personally responsible for a person having a physical or mental impairment requiring continuous care by him during normal court hours,