Some in jury pool seem unclear on the concept

Published February 15, 2007

MIAMI - Too few people, it seems, understand that jury duty is a civic responsibility.

Excuses for service Wednesday ranged from an inability to avoid news coverage - "If it comes on the TV, what am I supposed to do, close my eyes?" one potential juror asked -- to refusing to spend several weeks away from home.

The sentiment from many questioned: "Do I have to?"

Of course, a number of those dismissed do have legitimate conflicts.

One high school German teacher was willing to serve, but learned she couldn't get out of administering Advanced Placement tests in March. A therapist for abused children said her profession made it impossible for her to be a fair juror.

-Ice box: According to Miami prosecutor Abbe Rifkin, the air conditioner in Courtroom 4-1 has two speeds: "High and off," she joked recently.

But as Circuit Judge Ric Howard explained to one cold potential juror, there's a good reason for the courtroom's climate.

"If a courtroom is chilly, it keeps people awake," he said. Warmer rooms make people sleepy.

"And we can't have sleepy juries," he said.

That may be a challenge. Potential jurors, court officials and journalists alike have looked for distractions during downtime in the selection process, things like Sudoku and browsing the Internet.

Defendant John Couey has also found a new activity.

Instead of crafting his own artwork -- yesterday he scrawled on blank pads -- he is now diligently decorating a coloring book. A brown brontosaurus surrounded by foliage in various shades of green captured his attention for some time.

These items appeared Wednesday on the Times' blog from the courtroom. Check out the blog daily at blogs.tampabay.com/couey.