NEW YORK -- The air was thick with excitement on the steps of Manhattan Supreme Court Monday morning. Hordes of reporters casually perched on the building's steps, and curious tourists leaned over metal barricades, wondering what all the fuss was about. A black, shiny stretch limo was parked in front of the courthouse, and despite the 90-degree heat, the crowd waited patiently for hours in front of the building hoping to get a glimpse of controversial Republican candidate Donald Trump, who had arrived shortly after 9 a.m. to report for jury duty.
The hectic scene underscored the democratic nature of New York City's jury service system. In New York state, there are no automatic exemptions or excuses for jury service and in a star-studded city, that means every now and then a celebrity is selected to report for the unglamorous job, even for those running for president. People who are U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old, able to communicate in English, have not been convicted a felony and are a resident of the county in which they are summoned to serve are eligible for jury duty. Many New Yorkers said this is the fairest way to ensure everyone is treated equally, regardless of fame or fortune. But as the crowd waited Monday for a chance to see The Donald, there was a divide among the public gathered in front of the courthouse about whether Trump would add any value if he were selected to serve on a trial.
In the past, celebrities including Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien and Madonna have all shown up for jury duty. Although a new rule was put in place earlier this year that required people who serve on a jury to remain in the courthouse for at least two days, Madonna was given preferential treatment and was out after just a few hours. Trump beat Madonna on Monday by making it until at least 12:30 p.m. During his service, his limo remained parked directly in front of the building in a “no stopping anytime” section.
How Jury Duty Works
Once a resident of New York is selected at random to serve, that person must show up for jury duty or face civil or criminal penalties. After showing up at the courthouse, potential jurors, like Trump, have to wait and see if they get assigned. Trump was one in a 150-person pool, so the chances he actually would get selected to serve on a case were slim. There were only three criminal cases Monday, each needing only 12 jurors with two alternates. A trial typically only lasts one to two days, but jurors might be asked to remain available or on-call for up to five days. A juror is paid $40 per day.
Albert Davis, a resident of New York City who has been assigned to jury duty six times, laughed at the thought of Trump getting paid only $40 a day. “That’s chump change to him,” Davis said. Still, Davis applauded Trump for fulfilling his civic duty just like everyone else.
Donald Trump leaving jury duty at a courthouse in lower Manhattan pic.twitter.com/UueeE3Kfyb
— Sarah Berger (@sarahberger0408) August 17, 2015
Trump faced a $250 fine earlier this year after missing five previous summonses in the past three years. By showing up Monday, Trump will no longer be obligated to pay the fine. Supporters of Trump gathered around the courthouse insisted the summonses were sent to the wrong residences, and Trump never got them.
Joe Lepore, a fan of Trump and the jury duty system, woke up early and rode his bike from New Jersey just to see the billionaire. He held homemade signs and had managed to fist bump Trump after he departed his limo. With a huge grin splashed across his face, Lepore played the video of Trump fist-bumping him over and over again on his phone. He was excited about Trump’s day of jury duty, and said he even wished it were him that was selected.
“I'm a veteran and an American, and I think that if you get the invite to be a juror, you need to jump and down and celebrate with honor and dignity,” Lepore said.
Celebrity Jurors A Good Thing?
Paul Keates, a Canadian currently visiting New York, sees no problem with the current jury duty system. He said everyone should be held to the same standard and should not be excused based on fame, but said he could understand why some lawyers would not want a celebrity serving on a tria, because it could be distracting and might hurt a client’s case.
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) August 17, 2015
One New Yorker, however, said he thought Trump’s business experience could potentially be helpful in court. Daniel Gallagher said the jury duty system gives people a good opportunity to make decisions based on the laws of the land, but that the system could use some work. When Gallagher was on trial for an SEC case, he said most of the jurors had no knowledge about the SEC, and said having someone with business savvy like Trump serving as a juror on his case would have been helpful.
“That's my biggest issue. … It's not a jury of your peers, and I think for specific cases they need to be more vetted about how much experience they have in the field that the case is about,” Gallagher said.
While most people were happy the court holds everyone, regardless of celebrity status, to the same standard, a few people were skeptical about Trump’s intentions in serving. Trump said Saturday he would be taking a break from his campaign to fulfill his obligation, and he was looking forward to serving.
But for Patsy Dounden, a New York resident, Trump’s decision to serve now, in the middle of his campaign, instead of trying to get out of it seemed like just a savvy political maneuver. “If people are smart enough, they will see through it,” Dounden said.