Jury duty just got an upgrade.
Hennepin County on Friday unveiled a new $2.1 million jury assembly room at the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, where the 20,000 people who serve annually on jury duty will check in and pass the time.
As county leaders noted, the project elevates the jury room in quality — making it a modern space — and literally, moving it from a windowless basement room under the street to “penthouse” space on the Government Center’s 24th floor.
“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 roles that jurors and jury trials have in our justice system, indeed in our democracy,” Hennepin County Chief District Judge Ivy Bernhardson said. “We want our jurors to pass their time productively and comfortably while they await service.”
New technology and features include a kitchen, secure lockers, flat-screen TVs with headphones and a private room for nursing mothers or people who want to pray. Board games and phone charging stations are available.
Kiosks allow jurors to check in electronically, speeding up the process so court proceedings can start on time, said Kate Fogarty, the district court administrator.
The 6,400-square-foot assembly room, which opened in December, is indicative of a national push to demonstrate the value of jury duty by moving jury rooms to better locations, officials said.
The former assembly room had been in the basement of the Government Center since it opened in the 1970s, located below the street where jurors could hear rumbling from the traffic passing overhead. That room will now be used for scanning documents.
The new jury room was carved out of the county’s law library, which was downsized and remains next door. It seats 200 people and can be repurposed for other events or used as a conference room. It’s the same size as the old room, but it’s much more inviting.
“You can’t get a better space in the building than this,” Fogarty said.
The law library, which is open to the public and offers continuing legal education classes, also got new carpet, shelves, desks and chairs. Karen Westwood, the law library director, said the collection was reduced because more materials are available online.
Both rooms have panoramic views of the east side of downtown and U.S. Bank Stadium. “What a wonderful, welcoming space,” said Jan Callison, chairwoman of the Hennepin County Board.
In 2015, more than 28,000 Hennepin County residents were summoned for jury duty; of that number, 20,000 served on juries for 784 criminal trials, 134 civil trials and more than 50 grand jury sessions.
Jurors are randomly selected from a list of licensed drivers, state identification card holders and registered voters. The average jury service time is three days.
“The space is so wonderful,” Bernhardson said, “maybe some of you are wondering, ‘How can I get picked for jury duty here in Hennepin County?’ ”