NO ONE is exempt from jury duty in Philadelphia

 In this 2011 file photo, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille exits the court room  at Philadelphia's historic Old City Hall.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In this 2011 file photo, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille exits the court room at Philadelphia's historic Old City Hall.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Unless we’re charged with or are the victim of a crime, sue, or get sued, many of us won’t interface directly with the justice system.  But there is one way in which we all get our day in court.

I’m talking, of course, about jury duty.

And yes, I do mean ALL of us.

I myself was called to appear at City Hall Friday to do my civic duty.  In case you’ve never done this before: they pack a few hundred of us into a room, then periodically call 20 to 50 people at a time for a panel.  These are the pools from which they will eventually draw a jury.

As soon as I heard my own name (or a bastardization thereof) called for a panel, I began to gather my things.  Then, among the common names such as Steve Johnson and Anne Williams, one name stood out.

“Ronald Castille?”

I looked around, sure I had misheard.  Could the recently retired Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court actually be here, hobnobbing with us peons?

“Here!” I heard from the back of the room.  I swiveled to see the veteran jurist, casually dressed in button down shirt and ski jacket, wearing a black wide brimmed hat and reading casually from a tablet.

Yes, I was just called onto a jury panel with the guy who until recently was the top figure in the entire Pennsylvania court system.

In a brief waiting period before being sent to the courtroom, I engaged him in idle conversation.  He reiterated that despite pleas from the local Republican Party, he would not be running for mayor.  He also reminisced about the days when the rule was not “one day or one trial,” as it is now.  At a certain time, jurors could be called for weeks just waiting for a trial (what a time to be alive).

Oh, and what exactly does happen when someone with Castille’s local roots in the legal community gets called for jury duty?  “I get dismissed,” he said.  Uh…yeah.

When we finally did make it up to the courtroom with our assigned juror numbers (mine was 2, his was 25), the judge cast an amused glance at Castille, then asked if anyone is familiar with someone working in the courtroom, be it the judge, lawyers, stenographer, etc…  Up went number 25.

Later we were separated into two rooms for vetting: one room for numbers 1-20, another for 21-40.  The affable court crier poked his head in the door and asked if juror number 25 was in the room.  “I think he’s in the other one,” I said.  “I don’t think 25 is getting picked,” I said to the group after he left.

A few people chuckled.

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