Breastfeeding & Jury Duty – My Experience

by Jeni Panhorst. Reprinted with permission from the author.
August 25, 2004

I recently completed a week of jury duty service (8/16-20/04) while breastfeeding, and I wanted to share my experience, in case it may help others dealing with the same situation in the future. My daughter, Juliana, was born 5/29/04, and I’m still on maternity leave (as yet undecided as to whether I’m going back to work). I’ve been pumping periodically since she was about a month old, to build up a supply of milk for when I leave the house by myself (to run errands, work out at the gym, etc.), but I’d only ever pumped at home, and not on any sort of regular schedule.

When I received my Maricopa County (Arizona) Superior Court jury summons shortly after I gave birth, my first reaction was to find a way to get out of it. After all, who likes jury duty? 😉 In fact, I was kind of upset to be receiving a summons so soon — I’d just served for 2.5 weeks in April 2002, and Arizona law states that you are exempt for two years after serving. I joked that someone at Superior Court set an alarm clock for two years right after I finished serving last time, it went off, and they sent my next summons. There are people I know who’ve NEVER been called for jury duty, and here I was, being called 2 years and 1 month after the last time I served.

Arizona law actually does have a provision for sole providers of a child (I forget the maximum age) to be excused from jury duty. However, I didn’t feel right acting on that provision, because it wasn’t impossible for me to arrange alternate child care. My husband works from home much of the time, and my in-laws are retired and live only an hour’s drive away.

Plus, as cliche as it may sound, I do feel it is important for everyone to “do their civic duty”, whether that means voting, answering juror summons, etc. After sitting through jury selection last time around and seeing all the TOTALLY LAME excuses people came up with to get out of serving (in front of a judge, after they had taken an oath to tell the truth, no less), I was completely disgusted, and I swore to myself that I would always try to find a way to serve, if called. Of course, at the time, I never imagined that I would have to stick to that promise 2.5 months after giving birth to my first child, while breastfeeding. But I digress… 😉

After receiving the summons, I called the juror helpline and asked if I would be permitted breaks and a location to pump during the first day, the day of juror selection. She immediately informed me that there were mother’s rooms in the courthouse, and that finding time to pump would be no problem. Having been through the juror selection process before, I knew that, once I entered the courtroom, I would have an opportunity to explain my unique situation to the judge, which I planned to do.

I arrived downtown bright and early Monday morning for juror orientation. When it came time to pump, I marched up to the desk and asked to be escorted to the mother’s room. I was led to (no joke) the copy room of the juror administrator’s office, the door to which had NO LOCK, but a sign that read, “Nursing Mother. Do Not Enter.” It was laughable, but I sat my butt right down in the little rolling desk chair (the only chair in the room) and pumped away. Fortunately, everyone in the office heeded the sign, and I had no interruptions.

Soon after I finished pumping, I was selected for a pool of 50 prospective jurors and led to a courtroom. Being prospective juror #11 of this group, with no blatantly offensive aspects of my personality or history that would make me a “dangerous” juror, I knew I had a pretty good chance of being selected. But, when asked by the judge if anyone had any extenuating circumstances, I stood up in front of the entire courtroom and explained that I was exclusively breastfeeding my 2.5 month old daughter, and if selected as a juror, I would require 2-3 breaks of at least 20 minutes to pump. The judge immediately assured me that was already built into the court’s schedule, and I thanked him and sat down. At lunch, I pumped in the copy room again, and after lunch, I learned that I was selected for the jury, on a trial expected to last through the week.

Tuesday through Friday of that week, I was at the courthouse 10:30 through 3 or 4, depending on how many witnesses there were. At lunch, I pumped in the empty juror room (while everyone else was at lunch), and during the afternoon recess, I pumped in the bailiff’s office (which, conveniently, had a sink and a very comfy chair). Throughout the week, from my fellow jurors, I got some questionable comments — like the middle-aged woman who asked me how I could breastfeed because my breasts were so small (and yes, she did this in front of all the other jurors… by the way, since when is a C-cup small?) — and some very encouraging remarks — several of the women and men acknowledged that I was doing the “right thing” and applauded me for taking the extra trouble to take good care of my baby.

As I mentioned before, it was my first experience pumping out of the house, and Juliana’s first experience drinking from a bottle all day (as opposed to just one bottle here and there). Each day, I managed to pump at least as much as Juliana ate from bottles while I was gone, and we did our best to nurse frequently and at length during the mornings before I left and the evenings before bedtime. It was stressful at times, but all in all, I not only consider the week a success, but also a good trial run for returning to work (IF I return to work).

LLL’s web site has a page on jury duty (Jury Duty), and it very clearly focuses on ways to GET OUT OF jury duty while breastfeeding. I hope that this story demonstrates that there is a way to do your civic duty and, at the same time, do the best you can for your baby by breastfeeding. Granted, it requires pumping (or having someone bring your child to the courthouse) and access to alternative childcare, but if those obstacles can be overcome, it can be a success.

In conclusion, I’d like to mention one of the best parts of this experience: I was/am on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) portion of my maternity leave. My husband suggested that, since FMLA is a government-granted “right”, and through jury duty, the government was essentially taking a week of that away from me, that I should ask whether my employer would extend my maternity leave accordingly. I inquired with the leave management contractor, and they conferred with my employer’s legal department, and voila! — my maternity leave was extended by one week, the amount of time I served on jury duty. I’m not certain that request would work for any employer, nor do I know whether there is any provision built into FMLA to account for this, but I was certainly glad I asked! :)

Thanks for reading! 

Copyright © 2002 by Jeni Panhorst. No portion of this text may be copied or reproduced in any manner, electronically or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author.

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