Karl Rove and Ralph Nader don’t agree on much—but both believe in the importance of jury service, and both got to practice what they preach, reporting for duty to DC Superior Court.
Rove—no stranger to grand-jury proceedings—was summoned for DC jury duty in July. He was greeted by several in the jury pool who recognized him, among them former secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Rove and Albright chatted amiably.
Like Rove, Nader has reported for DC jury duty more than once. “The pool is so small,” he says, “I get called every two or three years. I’m never selected, even though I want to be.” His consolation prize? Treating himself to lunch at the courthouse cafeteria, which he says has “pretty good food.”
Over the summer, former Fed chair Alan Greenspan also showed up for duty, and Eric Holder—a former deputy attorney general and potential attorney general in a Democratic administration—discharged his jury obligation.
In September, George Stephanopoulos nearly ended up on a panel in a criminal case; it was his second time being called in DC. “I was called for jury service back in 1994 or 1995, when I was still in the White House. I was summoned to report on Monday—but there was actually something going on that Monday that was classified. So I had to tell them, ‘I can’t be there, but I can’t tell you why.’ ”
Did any of these VIPs get picked for a jury panel? No, but not because they pulled rank. They were all winnowed out through the normal selection process known as voir dire.
From a lawyer’s perspective, a boldface name on the jury can be trouble. High-profile jurors might distract the attention of the jury from the case or exercise too much influence.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a lawyer, was surprised when she was nearly selected for a panel. “One counsel or the other in the case should have wised up before I got that close,” she says.
Elected officials who legally retain their residence somewhere else sometimes end up getting called in their hometowns. President Bush was summoned for—and excused from—jury duty in Texas last December.
Members of Congress are exempt from jury duty in any jurisdiction. Why? Norton has a theory: “Because we write the laws and, of course, have exempted ourselves?”