Lunching During Jury Duty

New Orleans, La. –
Jury trials at Orleans Parish Criminal Court are on the rise. This means the court needs more jurors, and it means the chances of a New Orleans resident being called for service are higher than ever.

If you've never served jury duty in this court, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with food. But those who have served here have probably already put it together. I recently completed a month of jury service at the big criminal courthouse at the corner of Tulane and Broad, and with many more New Orleanians likely to be called up a little intel on chow could come in handy.

We all know that food is a preoccupation in New Orleans, and that hardly ceases when we're called to jury duty. In fact, after a few days spent in the jury pool lounge and in the courtrooms themselves, I began to think that perhaps being essentially confined there heightens the anticipation. If you can remember dreaming of lunch during school days, that yearning not necessarily for what was in your lunchbox but for the change of pace it promised and a perhaps the chance to get outside, then lunch during jury duty can be powerfully reminiscent.

Even by the second day of jury duty, my peers in the jury pool had learned to bring meals of their own. The best-prepared people toted insulated lunch sacks, while others had sandwiches and fruit crammed into their purses and bags. In the jury lounge, where we would all wait to be called into trials, the court provides a few tables to spread out. Later in the day, during breaks in the long, long process of jury selection, we'd take any chance to snarf a nibble or two. The munching of chips and the friendly exchange of candy among fellow jurors would fill the towering courthouse corridors. Sometimes the snack you sneak is the most satisfying.

It turns out that food gets a lot of play in the official business of the court too. If you're picked for a jury, a court-provided meal is usually part of the deal. Judges make frequent reference to these meals from the bench, promising take-out from specific restaurants. Meanwhile, jurors waiting in the jury pool or sitting through jury selection are given periodic updates on their own predicted lunch breaks, which might last anywhere from over an hour to less than 20 minutes.

There is but a slim selection of restaurants within easy walking distance of Tulane and Broad these days, though many of them are set up to sling lunch quickly. At a few, you can walk down a steam table line and have a meal of shrimp pasta, red beans and rice, yaka mein or chicken boxed up within minutes. You can even eat at a cafeteria inside the courthouse itself, but then, you won't get that fleeting thrill of actually leaving the building.

Each month, a new jury duty pool is gathered for Orleans Parish criminal court by a process of random selection. Those summoned to serve present a broad cross-section of New Orleans humanity, men and women of different races and ages, with different professions, experiences and perspective. That's important for assembling juries that truly represent this diverse community. For all these differences, however, it's pretty clear that when lunch rolls around the courthouse we all have the same thing on our mind.