Exploring Downtown, thanks to jury duty

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February 16, 2004 // UPDATED 2:57 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Alison Highberger
Alison Highberger

One suburbanite's urban revelation

Each Monday, except for Christmas week, about 125 people from all over Hennepin County arrive for jury duty at the Government Center on South 6th Street.

That's more than 6,000 people annually, many coming Downtown for the first time in years.

Surveys by the courts show that about 65 percent of each jury pool do not want to be there. But by the end of the two weeks' service, fewer than 2 percent are dissatisfied with the experience. What turns them around? After serving as a juror for the first time last fall, I think I know.

A summons for jury duty triggers one of two thoughts: "I've always wanted to do that!" or "How can I get out of this?" I was pleased to serve and grateful that my employer paid me during my service, but I felt ambivalent about going Downtown, as did many of my fellow suburban jurors. Where the heck is the Government Center? Should I hassle with parking or figure out how to take the bus? Where will I eat lunch?

I left the driving to Metro Transit. My main urban experience is downtown Hopkins, so riding the bus into Minneapolis made me feel like Dorothy entering Oz: excited and uncertain.

I found it very stimulating to walk through the city, surrounded by people and skyscrapers. I headed into the skyways to find the Government Center. What amazed me was how clean the skyways were.

On the other hand, at the Government Center, many of us were surprised at the lack of metal detectors. It's a building that's had shootings and violent incidents, and you can stroll right in! The staff told us they're working on it. Good.

If you've never pulled jury duty, here's how it works. After reporting in each day during the first week, you wait in the jury lounge to hear your name called. Interviews by judges and attorneys follow. If not selected for the case, you head back to the lounge until dismissal at 4:30 p.m. No wandering around allowed, except during the 90-minute lunch break.

Who's ever heard of an hour and a half for lunch? We jurors had time to relax, digest and explore.

I knew enough to head for The Local at 9th & Nicollet for a perfect hamburger. Another day, I enjoyed spending most of my $20 per diem at McCormick & Schmick's at 800 Nicollet Mall on a scrumptious bowl of seafood chowder and an outstanding salad with apples, almonds, gorgonzola and a lemon vinaigrette. It felt very decadent enjoying quiet lunches alone in swanky restaurants -- a nice change from a Happy Meal with my son.

By day three, friendships developed in the jury pool, and some of us ate and explored together. Daria, who works Downtown, took us to lunch at Au Bon Pain, then was our tour guide for some lobby art she thought was racy -- we had a big laugh trying to see what she saw! Another day, I was thrilled to find the Art Deco treasures on display at the Wells Fargo Tower.

Getting chosen to be on a jury on day four ended my noontime exploring, but lunches got even more interesting. During deliberations, you must eat with your fellow jurors and may not discuss the trial. You're escorted through the skyways with armed sheriff's deputies in front and back of your group. It makes you feel like a VIP -- or a criminal! The deputies instruct you to spend under $10 (the courts pick up the tab) and no alcohol is allowed. They sit nearby to eavesdrop and make sure you're not talking shop.

When your verdict is in, you feel proud that you've done something important. The judge thanks you for interrupting your busy life to serve your country.

Why do people change their minds and end up enjoying jury duty? They meet fascinating people. They get a glimpse of how our justice system works. They have a chance to explore a great city. What's not to like?

Alison Highberger lives in Minnetonka andserves up soup and sandwiches at the deli in the Ridgedale Byerly's.

If you would like to write a guest column about a Downtown experience or issue, please send a brief proposal to Editor David Brauer at dbrauer@skywaynews .net, or call 825-9205.