Former Presidents: They're Just Like Us! Obama Summoned For Jury Duty | KERA News

Former Presidents: They're Just Like Us! Obama Summoned For Jury Duty

Oct 28, 2017
Originally published on October 29, 2017 2:48 pm

There are plenty of perks to being a former U.S. president: a lifetime salary, a Secret Service entourage and office facilities provided on the taxpayers' dollar. Avoiding jury duty, however, is not one of them.

"We have a system in Cook County where one serves one time a year on the jury, and that time has arrived for President Barack Obama," county Chief Judge Tim Evans told NPR on Saturday in a phone interview. Evans wasn't willing to disclose the exact date or location of Obama's service, but he did confirm that the former president will be serving in Cook County in November.

Obama will receive the same salary as any other juror — $17.25 for each day he serves — a bit of a pay cut for someone who reportedly earned $400,000 for a single speech to a Wall Street firm.

"He's a great citizen of his city and this county," Evans said. "We're happy that he recognizes his responsibility as a citizen to serve just as anybody else would."

But, of course, Obama isn't "just anybody." Evans said that he has been in contact with Obama's staff and that the former president's security will be a high priority throughout his service.

Whether Obama will actually be chosen as a juror in the case is another question. The procedure can vary court to court, but in most cases, the judge will begin by disqualifying anyone who has prejudices that would prevent them from being a fair juror or for whom jury service would present an unusual hardship — such as a single parent of a young child. Then the lawyers for each side will have the opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. Finally, each side will have a limited number of peremptory strikes, which allow them to remove a juror from the pool without explanation, for any reason other than race or sex.

Aaron Katz is a litigator who specializes in white collar criminal defense. He says lawyers are often reluctant to choose what is known as a "high-impact" juror.

"Most jury consultants really recommend against sitting someone who, in a deliberation room, is going to have a really out-sized voice," Katz says. "But if I'm feeling either really good about my case or really bad about my case, I might actually want a high-impact juror like Obama on my jury, because I know I can tailor my arguments to that one juror, hoping that he or she can carry the day."

If chosen, Obama wouldn't be the first high-profile person to sit on a jury in Cook County: Oprah Winfrey sat on a jury for a murder trial in 2004. And other former presidents have also been summoned for jury duty in the past. Bill Clinton was called in 2003 for a case involving a gang shooting in the Bronx; George W. Bush posed for selfies while being considered for a jury in Dallas.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are plenty of perks to being a former U.S. president. Think about it - the Secret Service detail, the lifetime pension and office. Getting out of jury duty isn't one of them it turns out. Former President Barack Obama has been summoned to serve in Cook County, Ill. where the Obamas have a home and where the former president is registered to vote. NPR's Maggie Penmen has more.

MAGGIE PENMAN, BYLINE: After eight years in the country's highest office, Obama is being called on to perform a different type of civic duty. Cook County's chief judge, Tim Evans.

TIM EVANS: We have a system in Cook County where one serves one time a year on the jury. And that time has arrived for President Barack Obama.

PENMAN: Evan said the former president will serve some time in November, and...

EVANS: ...He will receive the same salary as anybody else serving. And it's $17.20 (laughter).

PENMAN: That's $17.20 per day, a bit of a pay cut for the former president. But Judge Tim Evans says Obama is taking his civic duty in stride.

EVANS: We are happy that he recognizes his responsibility as a citizen to serve just as anybody else would.

PENMAN: Whether he will actually be selected to sit on the jury is another question.

AARON KATZ: The odds of any person getting on the jury are low, right? They're about 1 in 5 after you make it through the qualification process.

PENMAN: Aaron Katz is a trial lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime. He says lawyers on both sides might be reluctant to choose a juror as well known as Obama.

KATZ: Most jury consultants really recommend against sitting what's known as a high-impact juror, someone who in a deliberation room is going to have a really outsized voice and is going to be likely to persuade all or most of the other jurors.

PENMAN: But in rare cases, Katz says it can be helpful to have someone like that in the deliberation room.

KATZ: If I'm feeling either really good about my case or really, really bad about my case, I might actually want a high-impact juror like Obama on my jury because I know that I can tailor my arguments to that one juror hoping that he or she can carry the day.

PENMAN: Obama wouldn't be the first high-profile person to sit on a jury in Cook County. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey served as a juror in a murder trial. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have also been summoned in recent years, though neither made it through jury selection. Maggie Penmen, NPR News.

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