For the 20,000 or so souls who are called on annually for jury duty at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, the exercise of civic obligation long came with a downside: Countless hours spent in an impossibly dreary, ill-lit jury assembly room located deep in the bowels of the 24-story complex.
As he jokingly reflected on “that welcoming and inviting space” the other day, David Hough, the Hennepin County administrator, was moved to quote a few passages from James Lileks, the Star Tribune’s resident wag. After being summoned to jury duty a few years back, Lileks had penned a first-person column that described the assembly room as a “windowless tomb under the street” where jurors were like “moldy potatoes in a basement waiting to be pitchforked into another bin.”
Hough chuckled at the latter turn of phrase — his levity perhaps amplified by the good feeling of a ribbon cutting ceremony. Located on the 24th floor of the court tower, the new $2.1 million jury assembly area is a marked contrast to its predecessor. On this day, the sun poured through a bank of east facing windows, which afforded a commanding view of the new U.S. Bank Stadium and, in the distance, the St. Paul skyline.
The space itself is sleek and modern, with kiosks for digital check-in, flat screen TVs on the wall, individual lockers, a kitchenette, a quiet room, and, of course, brand new furniture.
“It’s very fitting for us to place the jury assembly room where it belongs — at the top of the court tower in recognition of the important role that jurors and jury trials have in our justice system, indeed in our democracy,” said Hennepin County Chief Judge Ivy Bernhardson, who presided over the ribbon cutting. “As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
“The space is so wonderful,” she ventured, “perhaps some of you are wondering, ‘How can I get picked for jury duty in Hennepin County?”