Cutbacks and fiscal belt-tightening have killed a cherished New York ritual that gave celebrities an out from jury duty, TheWrap has learned.
Every November, a group of celebrities who'd been called for jury duty over the past year would assemble in the Manhattan Supreme Court as part of statewide Juror Appreciation Day, where they'd talk to high school kids about the importance of serving.
And in return, the celebrities were excused from serving.
Such was the case for more than a dozen years. But not any more.
Singer and author Rosanne Cash was enlisted for Juror Appreciation Day several years ago, finding herself in the same group as Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Conan O'Brien, Barbara Walters and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the pint-sized sex therapist who pointed out that serving on a jury is "a great way to pick up guys."
"It was pretty funny," Cash told TheWrap about her experience. "We all had to get up and say what an honor it was to serve on a jury, and then they gave us a certificate to get out of it for a couple of years."
O'Brien, on the other hand, was less cheery. "Bring a big book," he told the students of jury duty. "It's Russian literature time."
Last year, participants in the late-November day included Julianna Margulies, Tom Brokaw, Jimmy Fallon, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera, Kelly Ripa, Ralph Lauren and Connie Chung.
"I guess the theory is that some people would be too distracting if they were on a regular jury, so they asked us to talk to the kids instead," Margulies told TheWrap, laughing about the random assemblage of stars that day, all of whom are excused from serving for two years (just as they would be if they had served on an actual jury).
"Me, Tom Brokaw, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Kelly Ripa and Ralph Lauren – where else are you going to find that group of people?"
But according to New York court spokesperson Arlene Hackel, budgetary cutbacks and a downsizing that resulted in the retirement of some of those who coordinated the event have caused the 2011 event to be canceled.
It's still Juror Appreciation Day throughout the state court system, just without Manhattan's celebrity component.
Hackel said that Juror Appreciation Day itself began in 1994, with the celebrity event beginning about three years later. It continued for some 15 years, with other participants including Uma Thurman (right), Katie Couric, Nathan Lane, Julianne Moore, Chris Noth, Kathleen Turner and Vera Wang.
"It's a privilege that we get to do jury duty and come here," said Jimmy Fallon last year, overlooking the fact that doing jury duty and coming here were two distinctly different things. "You sit at home in your apartment and watch 'Law & Order,' and you want to do this kind of stuff… You just feel so exhilarated."
Then he sang "I Believe I Can Fly."
This year, sadly, Fallon and his fellow celebrity "jurors" will remain grounded.