My First Jury Duty Experience

Jury duty, it’s a civic duty that just about every American citizen seems to grumble and complain about and try to get out of. However, one of the things I was most looking forward to when becoming an American citizen was the opportunity to serve on a jury. I was so curious about it and very excited when I finally received my jury summons.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better first jury duty experience. It turned out to be a serious criminal case (gang related murder in my local area) with a judge I respected and who had a great sense of humor and a jury group that was pleasant to be with and took the responsibility seriously. I am looking forward to the next opportunity, which theoretically could come any day now since it’s been a year since my jury duty was completed.

Jury Selection

Luckily, I had completed the online orientation so my report time on Day 1 was a comfortable 9:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Not knowing exactly what to expect, except probably waiting around a lot, I brought my book and made my way to the LAX Courthouse. And waiting I did, but with a view like this of the snow-capped mountains, it wasn’t always so bad.

I was not called for the first panel of potential jurors, but when I returned from lunch, I was called for the next panel along with about 80 other people. In the courtroom, the judge told us about the case and that it would likely take about three weeks(!).

The jury selection process was fascinating. I loved getting an inside look at how a jury is selected. Many people were dismissed right away due to language difficulties or the extreme hardship a 3-week trial would inflict. The rest of us completed a questionnaire that gathered information that the lawyers and judge would use for further questioning in an attempt to select an unbiased jury.

When it was my turn to enter the jury box for questioning, I felt like I was up for an oral exam for which I hadn’t prepared. I was told I had “boring” answers on my questionnaire, no experience with violent crimes, police, or gangs. Apparently, nothing stood out as possibly making me unable to decide the case fairly and impartially. Basically, the only question I was asked by one of the lawyers was how I deal with my kids’ fighting and decide what actually happened. The questioning moved on the other jurors, and then suddenly the day ended with the lawyers saying they accepted the panel as is. There was no warning that those of us sitting in the box would become the jurors of this case. Everyone seemed equally surprised. I was quite happy that I had been picked.

It was interesting to chat with and observe and listen to the other potential jurors during this process. Surprisingly, many actually had a positive attitude towards being there. Maybe the ones who didn’t want to be there had already found a way to postpone or get out of it. A shocking number of people or their families had been victims of violent crimes or had distrust of the police. The judge and lawyers tried to weed out those who might be biased against Latinos and/or gang members. I couldn’t always make sense of why a potential juror was let go, but one potential juror made it very clear. He said he had already made up his mind. “Either way that’s not good,” the judge said and let him go.



Day 4 was the beginning of the witness testimonies. We first heard instructions by the judge and then opening statements by both sides. It was interesting to see how the lawyers had hinted at the direction of the case through their juror questioning. It wasn’t just a case of a straight forward murder. The defendant was actually “only” the driver and a buddy of his had shot the gun which caused the death, but according to California law, the drivers are potentially just as guilty as the main perpetrators, though of course innocent until proven guilty.

We had a total of seven days of testimonies. We heard from all sorts of witnesses: police officers, motor and traffic officers, dispatchers, detectives, firearms experts, a high tech expert regarding cell phone activity, gang experts, a coroner about the autopsy, and current and former gang members. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but the notes I took had to stay behind in the courtroom. It was fascinating to get the inside look at a real crime investigation. Most eye-opening was what I learned about gang activity and gang rivalry going on in areas I frequent on a daily basis (Santa Monica and West LA) and not far from my own neighborhood!

There was a lot of sitting in a courtroom without windows during these days. I took advantage of the stairs going down from the eighth floor of the courthouse, as did many others, and enjoyed my little circular garden for breaks in the fresh air and sunshine.


During Day 10, the testimonies ended, the lawyers said their final arguments, and the judge gave us strict instructions to follow during deliberations.

We all returned on Day 11 to begin discussing the case. A fellow juror brought a delightful box of donuts to start off the day. This was the first time we discussed the case with our fellow jurors. It soon became clear that we did not all agree on a verdict, but being the conscientious jurors that we were, we went through the testimonies again and thought about and discussed it some more. Everyone was given a chance to share their opinion and thinking. However, we could not come to agreement and saw no way it would happen. We were pretty evenly split. We sent word to the judge that we were ready to share our decision.

Soon we were called into the courtroom. The judge didn’t accept our deadlock and encouraged us to return to the deliberation room and continue discussing. This was towards the end of the day and we made no headway and went home to sleep on it. The second day of deliberations we returned, but there had been no change in minds. We were still evenly split. Once again, we sent word to the judge. This time he accepted our deadlock, and it was over as fast at it had begun. It was somewhat anticlimactic.

The lawyers from both sides were eager to speak to us outside the courtroom afterwards. They wanted to learn the strengths and weaknesses in their cases and to hear why we weren’t able to come a unanimous decision. The People planned to try the defendant again. I’ll continue to cccasionally search online to see the status of the case. It looks like the next hearing date will be next month.

Closing Thoughts

A few days after it was over, I received a letter from the judge. He hoped I found the “experience both interesting and rewarding” and reiterated how “jury service is one of the few acts in which we each can fully participate as Americans” and thanked me for my “contribution to our community and to our legal system”. Little did he know how big a deal this experience was for me and how much I appreciated the opportunity. The letter was probably a form letter that’s sent out to all jurors for all sorts of cases, but I certainly took it to heart.

How have your jury duty experiences been?

My First Presidential Election as a U.S. Citizen & How I’m Moving Forward

It’s coming up on my four-year anniversary as a U.S. citizen. Becoming an American citizen was not an easy choice, but the rewards have been worthwhile, in particular the right to vote and opportunity to serve on a jury. I made a pact to vote in every election, and it wasn’t until this last election that I was finally able to vote for a United States president.

For me, the presidential choice was an easy one. I was with her, especially considering whom she was running against. On Election Day, I was proud to cast my vote for Hillary and optimistic about the future. However, I was stunned and unprepared to see how quickly my optimism dwindled and left me feeling gutted. It wasn’t long after we began watching the election returns that dread and disbelief entered my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t realize I was so personally invested in the results.

The next day, when I woke up to what our new world would be, I felt like I was in an alternate reality. I couldn’t even look at our newspaper. I was embarrassed and shocked that we had such a man as Trump as our new head of state. In social media and in real life, I saw so many other people’s disbelief and anger at the results as well. It didn’t help me feel any better.

Staying angry, depressed, and full of despair and saying that Trump is not my president doesn’t help me going forward. Hillary won the popular vote. Most of our country supported her. However, he is our country’s new president and we need to do what we can to make sure America doesn’t fail miserably and is better prepared for the next presidential election.

I have never really been extremely interested in politics nor actively involved in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve had no say in the outcomes. This election made me realize that just voting isn’t always enough; it’s equally important to actively participate in the democratic process as it is to vote.

Going forward, I vow to do the following:

  • I will not tune out politics, but instead I will stay informed and follow political issues. I will seek out sources of respected, high-quality media. I will also look for new sources that help me exit the echo chamber. I want to hear other people’s points of view. If you’re looking for a new source, consider a new favorite podcast of mine, Pantsuit Politics, where two women, one from the left and one from the right, discuss politics in a fresh and nuanced way. Similarly, I will not let inaccurate, incomplete, fake news, or my new favorite phrase, “alternative facts” pass me by without commenting.
  • I will make a conscious effort to read books outside my normal tendency and comfort zone – more books by diverse authors and about issues or experiences new or unfamiliar to me. To start with, I’m adding these books to my to-be-read list (and I welcome suggestions):
  • Similarly, I will make sure to continue to provide opportunities to strengthen my kids’ understanding, empathy, and compassion for people unlike themselves both at home and abroad, and books is a great place to do so. I’m lucky and grateful both my boys are avid and voracious readers and generally accept the book recommendations I pass along. I’ve sought out books to help them understand and appreciate their Norwegian heritage. Now I’ll make a conscious effort to suggest and offer books that will help them understand the experiences of marginalized groups and causes affected by our political discussions. I’ve got a list in progress and welcome suggestions.
  • I will take action and let my elected officials hear my voice. This has always been a big unknown for me. Who exactly do I call and what do I say? But now I’ve been motivated to find out the details. There’s been lots of help floating around the internet these past couple of months. To begin with, I’ve confirmed who all my elected officials are in Congress (representatives here and senators here). Next I’ve found sources that address issues of concern. The 65 (referring to the more than 65 million Americans who rejected Trump on Election Day) is a website dedicated to Weekly Calls to Action. They provide scripts for a long list of issues along with contact info for party leadership and tips and strategies. Another site is Women’s March: 10 Actions/100 Days. It’s a campaign aimed at mobilizing the energy from the Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017, across the country and the world and encouraging everyone to take action on issues we all care about.

These action items might not seem like much to some, but for me they are a good place to start. What are you doing in the aftermath of this election?

My first voting experience ever

SONY DSCAs many of you know, I recently became a United States citizen. It was long overdue and a day of very mixed emotions for me, about which I wrote here. One thing I knew for sure, however, was that I was looking forward to exercising my right to vote and, probably surprising to many Americans, serving on a jury. My chance to vote came not long ago, and it was actually a somewhat important vote. Angelenos were voting for their next mayor.

I received my Official Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet many weeks in advance. It was a lot to read (88 pages!) and make sense of. I noted the date and place to vote, and then as the weeks went by, paid more attention to campaigning than I usually did.

Election Day came quickly. The day before my husband had suggested we go and vote together, but the day of we had a busy morning with commitments and lunch and then we headed back home totally forgetting about it being Election Day. It wasn’t until I was making dinner that I suddenly realized that we hadn’t voted yet. I was determined not to miss my first opportunity to vote. Luckily, the polls were open until 8pm and only a couple of minutes away from our house. After dinner, I quickly collected my sample ballot and made sure I knew how I was voting and headed to the polls. Hubby stayed home with the kids who were already in pjs. I wasn’t able to convince them to join me for an after-dinner family outing.

I was a little nervous. I didn’t even know how the voting machines worked. My kids, having accompanied their dad to vote in the presidential elections last year, knew more about the logistics of voting than I did. But I didn’t let that deter me. I entered the room where the booths were set up and was greeted warmly. I proudly told them this was my first time voting since I was a new citizen, and they were happy and eager to show me how to proceed. And they were curious to hear my story of becoming a citizen. I ran into a neighborhood friend there as well and shared my voting news with her, too. Everyone was very congratulatory and friendly. It was a very pleasant affair! And I felt a great sense of pride knowing that I had a say in who was going to be our next mayor.

votedAs I headed back to the car, I called my husband to tell him about my experience. He asked if I had received my “I voted” sticker, and of course I had proudly put it on. It seemed like my husband was going to skip voting this time around so I did my best to convince him otherwise. I told him his name was there just waiting for him to sign next to it, and there was no worry about having to wait in line to vote. There was always somebody there while I was there but never a line, though it did seem to be picking up a little that last half hour before the polls closed. It didn’t seem like I had convinced him, but to my surprise, he was ready to leave for the polls as soon as I pulled up in front of our house. I felt good knowing that we both had cast our votes and been good role models for our kids who one day hopefully will be as diligent about casting their votes as well.

My Path to U.S. Citizenship

New citizenPeople would always be very surprised when they found out I wasn’t an American citizen. I’ve lived in the States for years and I have no accent. There’s nothing about me that hints at not being American. But I’ve never been able to vote nor do jury duty, and that set me apart. That’s no longer the case! On February 27, 2013, I took the Oath of Allegiance and became an American citizen.

The Naturalization Oath Ceremony was a bitter sweet event for me. American citizenship is not something I have longed for for years and years. I became eligible for citizenship in 2001, but it wasn’t until eleven years later that I finally submitted my application.

Norwegian passportBecoming a U.S. citizen meant automatically losing my Norwegian citizenship. That was the only thing that was holding me back. If I could have had dual citizenship, I would have jumped at the opportunity to become an American citizen 11 years ago. But I was very proud of my Norwegian citizenship and loved my red Norwegian passport, and I felt that losing them would be like losing some of what made me special.

I finally decided to take the plunge and submitted my application for practical reasons. It was the smart and sensible thing to do. I couldn’t be emotional about it anymore. There were some estate planning issues that could be dealt with in a more financially sound way if I weren’t a non-citizen spouse.

The application process was actually much quicker than I thought it would be. I submitted my application at the very end of July 2012, just before leaving on vacation. It was processed so quickly that I had already missed an appointment for fingerprinting before I came back three weeks later. It took much longer to reschedule that appointment; I wasn’t seen until November. Then I received the letter notifying me of my interview. At the interview in December, the officer went over my application with me and tested my knowledge of the English language and American civics. I passed with flying colors; I didn’t even have to answer all the questions. And then in January, I received a letter notifying me of my Naturalization Oath Ceremony. Unfortunately, I was out of the country for that date and had to request a new date. I was given February 27.

The whole application process only took seven months, and that was with two appointments that needed rescheduling. I can’t even imagine how quick the process would have been if I hadn’t needed to reschedule those appointments. Three to four months maybe? I think that is impressive government work for something as significant as applying for citizenship, especially in such an urban, immigrant rich city as Los Angeles.

The morning of my ceremony came upon us quickly. We hadn’t put much thought into it. My family in Norway knew I was applying for citizenship, but I had forgotten to tell them of the new date for my ceremony. My husband’s family here didn’t know about the upcoming ceremony either. No friends knew. We hadn’t been trying to hide it from anyone; it just wasn’t at the forefront of our minds.

Citizenship signJust the night before, we realized that we would need to take the kids with us to the ceremony because we wouldn’t be able to get them to school and us to the ceremony on time. It would be a nice civics lesson, we figured. How many people actually get to see a naturalization ceremony take place?

We had no idea what to expect and were quite surprised. All we knew was that it was at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. We had no idea how long it might last and we hadn’t even thought about how many people might be there. We did not know that we would be separated. Applicants entered one place, and guests entered another. We were most astonished by the great number of people present!

Outside the hall

My best friend

I checked in, received a packet of information, and was guided to a row. Small world incident here — right in front of me was a lady from the hair salon the day before! We had seen the same hairdresser and she had been alternating between the two of us. We hadn’t talked too much and neither knew the other was being naturalized the next day. But we suddenly felt like best friends in this sea of strangers! My new best friend was from the Philippines. I sat next to a lady from Brazil whose story was similar to mine, except she didn’t wait as long to apply for citizenship. On my other side was a man from Iran. Since we were all single and sitting around just waiting, we chatted and enjoyed each other’s company.

Finally, the ceremony started. We’d been waiting for about an hour. I’m sure the kids were absolutely stir-crazy and out of their minds. I was glad I wasn’t with them. We had brought nothing for them to occupy themselves with.

Looking backIt turned out we were 2,250 people about to become citizens. I was surprised by how special and meaningful the ceremony was despite the attendance of so many people. There were probably about 5,000 people there including all the guests. We recited the Oath of Allegiance very early in the proceedings. Then the judge gave a very personable speech about the many different paths to citizenship among us, what it means to be an American, our rights and responsibilities, and he concluded with telling us this was a day to celebrate. He encouraged us to “pick up the phone and tell how wonderful today was”. He really was able to make us feel how special and rare this experience was.

All of us waving our little American flags!

All of us waving our little American flags!

In his speech, he shared some interesting statistics. The country with the greatest number of applicants was Mexico, which was no surprise. Next was the Philippines, followed by Iran, El Salvador, and in fifth was Guatemala. I’d be interested to hear what the bottom five countries were. It wouldn’t surprise me if Norway were one of them!

President ObamaThe judge’s speech was followed by a special video presentation. President Obama was proud to welcome us as new citizens to this country. He congratulated us and wished us well. It actually felt like he was speaking to us personally. It was quite moving. The ceremony concluded with the music video God Bless the USA featuring Lee Greenwood. It was a beautiful video — moving lyrics and magnificent images. Take a look (click the picture below), I bet you’ll tear up a bit, or maybe that was just me because I was feeling a little emotional.

God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood

God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood

Presidential Election 2012

It was an exciting day on Tuesday, November 6, not because we were eagerly awaiting the results of an election that would determine the president for the next four years, but because of how excited the kids were to be involved in the process. I am unable to vote, but my husband made sure to take the kids with him to the polls when he went so they could see first-hand how it’s done. Then we all watched TV as the results came in. Continue reading