Jury duty is a little like doing laundry. It's painful but necessary, essential to a functioning society.
Fortunately for the up to 235 prospective Multnomah County jurors called to the courthouse each day, Mayumi Pickett and Randi Davis are attuned to anxiety, fear and boredom. The two women are the public faces of the cavernous jury room, but they are anything but somber.
Pickett, who gives a brief orientation, says her predecessor used humor to calm and entertain prospective jurors. Pickett says she can't tell jokes, so she employs trivia:
The only state with a town called Hell? Michigan.
First state to allow female jurors? Utah, 1898.
The last? Mississippi, 1968.
She and Davis see every kind of person: Some are so intent on serving that they volunteer. One slept through dismissal and couldn't be wakened—a security officer had to pinch the man—and another came back drunk from lunch and had to be escorted from the building. They've seen people find jobs in the jury room, and in at least two cases, they've seen people meet their future spouses.
To pass the time, they hand out board games, puzzles and books. Davis plays bad cop to Pickett's good cop, reminding people they can't leave the jury room or, without permission, the building. She softens her directives with what she calls "Dad jokes."
Here's one of her favorites: A grasshopper walks into a bar. "Hey," the bartender says, "We've got a drink her named after you." "What?" the grasshopper replies. "You've got a drink named Steve?"
The women say they work hard to demystify what can be a confusing and sometimes frightening process, but prospective jurors still overwhelmingly ask the same two questions.
"Where's the restroom?" they want to know. And "when can we go home?"