In honor of the jury duty I did not, after all, have to serve today, here is the Petit Jury selection box, used in the Montgomery County court system from the late 19th century until 1969. It is a 28 inch square wooden box, with sixteen compartments. The frame-like lid (not shown here) locks down at all four corners – note the key in the bottom left corner. There is one compartment for each of the county’s thirteen election districts (I’m not sure what the other ones were for – if you know, tell me!), and juror names were drawn out by hand.

According to the donor, the Hon. Joseph M. Mathias, the jury selection box was made by a carpenter from Frederick County “at an unknown date,” and was used from 1867 through 1969 in three successive county courthouses* in Rockville. It was already “old” in 1916; taped to the bottom of the box is a note dated October 26, 1948, which reads: “To whom this may concern: I wish to state that this jury box was in this office January 16, 1916, and looked at that time just about as old as it does at the present time, and it has been used continually during the years 1916 to date. [signed] Clayton K. Watkins, Clerk of the Circuit Court.”

Inside the drawers are folded slips of paper, with handwritten names – presumably the last set of potential jurors before the box was retired and sent to live in the basement of the 1931 courthouse. Judge Mathias, upon his retirement from in 1981, gave the Petit Jury box to the Montgomery County Historical Society. Ten years later he described the jury selection procedure to Eileen McGuckian of Peerless Rockville: “A law passed by the Legislature required the Clerk of the Court to place a specified number of names on folded slips of paper in each drawer, and each Court term one judge was appointed Administrative or Jury Judge responsible for getting enough jurors . . . it was not uncommon for Judges to contact Rotary or Kiwanis clubs, churches, and friends to volunteer for service. Not infrequently Mike Snowden, who operated [Snowden’s] Funeral Home in Rockville, was called for names of potential black jurors. . . . This system was terminated by a 1973 law which required jury selection to be random – no more volunteering.”  The March 1968 term’s selection was detailed in an article in the Montgomery County Sentinel: “When names are drawn, either the Clerk of the Circuit Court or one of his deputies, instructed to keep ‘eyes up, not down,’ draws one folded slip at a time, hands it to the judge, who reads it aloud, then hands the slip to another deputy clerk who, in turn, hands it to still another deputy who officially records the name.” According to the author, choosing the 302 jurors for the coming term’s Grand Jury and four Petit Juries took three and a half hours.

* These would have been the 1840 courthouse, the 1891 Red Brick Courthouse, and the 1931 gray courthouse, the latter two of which are still standing and in use. The 1840 courthouse is generally considered the second courthouse building in Rockville, although it may have been the third. All of the courthouses were on the same site in downtown Rockville – or, as Eileen McGuckian asked me to quote her, “the center of the known universe.” (Thanks for your help yesterday, Eileen – I hope I did the courthouses justice!)

Still waiting to be called...

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