The Ottumwa Courier

March 2, 2012

Jury duty: Serve with pride

Court Calls

Judge Michael J. Schilling

OTTUMWA — “Jury service is a cornerstone of American democracy,” proclaims the multi-colored stamp released by the U.S. Postal Service in 2006 to commemorate jury service. During 2011, there were 114 jury trials convened in the district, associate district, and magistrate courtrooms of Iowa’s 8th Judicial District. In all, about 1,100 citizens from the district’s 14 counties thus served as jurors. Perhaps three or four times that number were summoned to participate in the jury-selection process.  

Each person called to jury duty performs a valuable service in dispute resolution, and also fulfils an indispensable role in preserving the integrity of the state and federal constitutions. Both governing documents assure litigants the right to a trial by jury — meaning that peers from the community render the verdict. The United States is the only nation in the world to guarantee trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases. This key right in particular, and the rule of law in general, are among the many reasons why our country leads the world.  

The people of the 8th Judicial District who performed jury service this past year have a special reason to be proud. The U. S. Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of business leaders, corporate counsel and boards, and others knowledgeable about economics, regarding the legal system in each of the 50 states. One of the elements surveyed was “fairness of juries” with respondents asked to rank the juries of each state for fairness using a letter grade from A-F. Among the 50 states, Iowa ranked in the top four for jury fairness!

This good report card reflects the quality of jury justice across our state. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that Iowa’s juries mirror the traits of its citizens: Hard-working, dedicated, compassionate, reasonable, and fair-minded. When we Iowans are called upon to serve as jurors, we should remember the important part we play in preserving our democratic way of life. As the colorful postage stamp also says: “Jury Duty: Serve With Pride!”

Judge Schilling is a district court judge from Burlington who serves the four counties of District 8-B: Des Moines, Henry, Lee and Louisa. Occasionally he is specially assigned to preside over cases in District 8-A courthouses, as well. He may be contacted at