Jury duty disrupts faculty schedules

Dean Beth Slattery pages through her planner, crammed with appointments written in purple ink in every slot and margin from top to bottom. “About 25,” she says, counting the meetings she missed due to her two-week stint as a juror during January and February.

Despite their many responsibilities at school, teachers and administrators are not excused from jury duty under California state law.

According to the California Education Code and Rule of Court 5.5, teachers, students and other school employees are protected from harassment by their school if they serve on jury duty. 
All citizens have the option of postponing their jury duty up to 60 days.

“The school appreciates it when they do [use their vacations for jury duty],” President Thomas C. Hudnut said. “They are doing everybody a favor.”

However, teachers are not required to do so.

Upper school journalism teacher Kathy Neumeyer was summoned to jury duty during the Chronicle’s December layout — the height of newspaper activity and the time she is most needed. Neumeyer did not want to go on jury duty during winter vacation because she had many family events planned.

She chose to postpone jury duty to the week of finals, knowing that if necessary she could use her semester break, so as not to miss an extended time period of school.

Due to prolonging circumstances such as an absent lawyer and a hung jury, Neumeyer, who was the forewoman of the jury for a criminal trial involving a gang drive-by shooting, ended up serving 16 days of jury service during January and February, missing nine days of school plus the entire semester break.

Because newspaper journalism is only taught by Neumeyer, it was hard to find a substitute who could adequately replace her.

Her junior and senior class was run by the editors-in-chief. Her sophomore classes were taught by yearbook teacher Jen Bladen, who taught the students graphic design.

The Chronicle was also publishing Big Red, a sports magazine, during the time of her jury duty, so Neumeyer came by at night to check in, e-mailed students, took copy to court to proof-read and called students on their cell phones throughout the day.

“It was hard to do my job and jury duty at the same time, but the jury duty itself was interesting,” Neumeyer said. “I have covered a lot of trials as a newspaper reporter, and the view from the jury box was very different.”

Dr. Sheila Siegel was also called to jury duty in January, but was not selected to serve on a panel.
“I sat there all day and was hoping to be called just to relieve the boredom,” she said.

Like Neumeyer, upper school performing arts teacher Ted Walch is the only teacher for two of his classes, Cinema Studies and The Self and The Spirit, a humanities course.

Nearly 80 students combined take these classes, so had he been chosen to serve on a jury for the six week case he was summoned to, the school would have been left in a lurch.

When faced with this predicament and the questions it presented, “trying to come up with the answer kept me awake,” Walch said.  “The truth of the matter is that I couldn’t come up with a workable solution.”

Next time he is summoned to jury duty he will postpone it until summer.
“That is the best solution,” he said.

Hudnut’s executive assistant, Ann-Marie Whitman, served on jury duty last year for three days, a relatively short amount of time for someone who was selected.

“I guess I got lucky,” she said. “It’s the luck of the draw.”

She was able to keep up with her work while she was on jury duty by checking her phone messages and e-mail during breaks. While Whitman was on jury duty, her assistant, Pat Nolte, was able to take over her responsibilities to Hudnut.

Hudnut’s new role as president involves many duties, but he believes if he was selected as a juror, “everything would run fine. It would be much less traumatic than if a teacher with five classes were called onto jury duty.”

Many of Slattery’s students experienced such trauma. When Slattery returned from her two weeks on jury duty, the salmon-colored piece of paper she left on her door, notifying the school that she was on jury duty, had “Please come back” scribbled on it.

Though the weeks that Slattery was on jury duty created many conflicts, the weeks after she was on jury duty proved to be even more problematic because she needed to schedule four weeks worth of meetings into two weeks.

Despite these troubles, Slattery did not make an effort to get out of jury duty.
“I believe jury duty is a civic duty,” she said.

This “residual effect,” as Slattery puts it, caused her to have virtually no free periods when she returned.

Among the hardest hit by Slattery’s leave of absence were those transfered to her care after dean Sharon Cuseo’s maternity leave.

Clare Bergman ’08, who had Cuseo and now Slattery as a dean, had no trouble finding administrators to speak to in place of Slattery when she was actually on jury duty, but the time immediately following her return was difficult.

“It was hard because it was during the time when we had to have our meetings, so when she came back she had a meeting every single period,” Bergman said. “It was hard to talk to her in person. It got kind of crazy.”

Slattery was concerned about being there for her students, and though she responded to voice mail and e-mail whenever possible, she understands how “frustrating” it must have been for her students since problems are bound to come up in the middle of the day.

Jury duty is “an inconvenience we all share,” Hudnut said. “Like stop signs and speed limits.”

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