Prospective juror Barack Obama ultimately was not chosen to sit on a Cook County jury. Like the other potential jurors, Obama will be mailed a check for $17.20.
CHICAGO — He won two presidential elections and a Nobel Peace Prize, but on Wednesday the former leader of the free world performed the unthinkable — he made Cook County jury duty exciting.
Prospective juror Barack Obama, who ultimately was not chosen to sit on a jury, climbed out of a black SUV in a secure parking garage underneath the Daley Center around 10 a.m. Wednesday as a news helicopter hovered overhead.
Then, accompanied by his Secret Service detail, Obama rode a private elevator reserved for judges to the 17th floor, where he was greeted by Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
He emerged smiling as if in campaign mode, shaking hands as he made his way under the fluorescent lights to the jury-assembly room.
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“This looks like Chicago right here,” Obama said to laughter after surveying the room filled with rows of black plastic chairs, according to one of the jurors who captured it on video. “I like that.”
The Obamas own a home in the South Side’s Kenwood neighborhood — from which Obama was followed by a media scrum to the Daley Center on Wednesday — as well as a residence in Washington, D.C.
His appearance at the Daley Center came as another Chicago celebrity, Chance the Rapper, testified across the street at a City Hall budget hearing, denouncing the city’s plans to build a new $95 million police academy.
A security guard at the courthouse warned a gaggle of news photographers, reporters, court staff and attorneys not to photograph the room, but all bets were off once the crowd caught a glimpse of Obama inside. The crowd rushed and pressed against the glass doors as everyone tried to snap a photo.
“He’s gorgeous!” exclaimed court clerk Sonal Joshi, who briefly came upstairs and caught a glimpse of Obama before hurrying back to her post on a lower floor of the building.
On the other side of the doors, many of the other would-be jurors — including Obama there were 168 in all — were in full swoon, applauding the former president as he shook hands and signed copies of his book they had brought along.
They took out their phones to take photos and videos. Obama obliged, according to Evans, but declined to pose, as former President George W. Bush had done a few years ago, with potential jurors taking selfies.
Kelly Bulik, 48, of Chicago, felt like a “piece of melting butter” as she shook hands with Obama. Another potential juror, Molly Miernicki, 23, of suburban Tinley Park, said her family had joked for weeks that she would end up on a jury with Obama but then found herself waiting in anticipation with other jurors.
“I actually have to say, it was a great experience,” Miernicki said about her brief jury duty. “Oh yeah, I’m ready (for the next time). Let’s see who else is coming.”
Obama eventually found a seat and watched a decades-old juror-training video hosted by a younger, mustachioed Lester Holt, who was once a local news anchor before landing in the big chair at “NBC Nightly News.” The former president put a red “Juror” sticker on the left lapel of his sport jacket.
Obama then retired to a judge’s chambers — officials would not say which judge — on the 17th floor to work while he was waiting. A spokeswoman later released a statement saying that “President Obama believes the most important office in our democracy is that of citizen, and he considers jury duty a core obligation of citizenship.”
Evans said that Obama also agreed, after he presented the former president with letters from juvenile detainees awaiting trial on criminal charges, to speak next year at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
About an hour later and before lunch, Evans told reporters that Obama had not been selected to serve on a jury. Obama was assigned to one of 16 panels, according to a spokesman for the chief judge. Eight of those panels were randomly selected to serve as potential trial juries and the rest — including Obama’s Panel 6 — were sent home as they were not needed.
Like the other jurors, Obama will be mailed a check for $17.20. A spokeswoman said the former president will return the money to Cook County. And, just like the other jurors who were passed over, Obama will be excused from jury duty for at least a year before being reassigned into the pool of potential jurors who are randomly selected to serve.
“I don’t know of anybody who receives a summons from me and says, ‘Oh great, I get to serve jury duty,’ ” Evans joked. “I hope they can see that … if the former president of the United States takes his time to come, anybody ought to be willing to come.”
Odds are that if he had been selected, Obama, who was able to postpone jury duty after being summoned in 2010 right before his State of the Union address, would have heard a personal-injury lawsuit — the bread-and-butter type of civil case at the Daley Center.
Experienced personal injury lawyers said it would be a risky move to keep Obama on a jury.
“He seems like he’d be very compassionate, empathetic juror — he’s a dad,” said attorney Patrick Salvi, who won a record-setting $148 million Cook County jury verdict in August. “The only problem is, he’s the former president of the United States and he’s going to completely control deliberations even if he doesn’t want to.”