A Public Servant Tries to Do His Civic Duty

He oversees an office of more than 600 lawyers who together juggle more than 80,000 cases. He has argued before the United States Supreme Court and been involved in negotiating a billion-dollar contract. But one much more quotidian experience with the law escapes Michael A. Cardozo, the head of the New York City Law Department. He has never served on a jury.

This month, in the midst of tense labor negotiations with city teachers and a standoff with a school bus drivers’ union, Mr. Cardozo reported to the courthouse at 111 Centre Street in Manhattan for jury service, just like so many other New Yorkers do. And just like so many others do, he waited.

“The first day nothing happened,” Mr. Cardozo recalled last week. “I sat there virtually all day until they excused us.”

But on the second day, he was called before a judge presiding over a drug case to answer a series of questions. What’s your background? Where do you live? Who do you work for? Do you know any lawyers? Do you know anyone in the Police Department?

“I said, ‘I am the chief lawyer for New York City,’” to some laughter. Yes, he knows police officers, and even Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner.

In the end, Mr. Cardozo was not selected for the jury.

“Although I am pretty busy, I was a little disappointed,” Mr. Cardozo said. “This is the closest I ever got.”

Before 1996, members of 21 work categories in New York were eligible for exemptions from jury duty, including doctors, lawyers, judges, police officers and members of the clergy. But now even celebrities file through those waiting rooms. Jimmy Fallon. Tom Brokaw. Ralph Lauren.

“Depending on the degree of their celebrity, they may or may not be picked,” said Norman Goodman, the commissioner of jurors in Manhattan. “They put the time in the same as anyone else.”

Mr. Cardozo will have to wait six years for his next opportunity to serve.

“It is very important that we recognize this is a part of our civic duty,” Mr. Cardozo said.

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