Do your duty: When you get a summons for jury duty, answer it (editorial)
March 20, 2018
A member of this paper's staff was recently summoned for jury duty. The case was a civil matter, so it wasn't really newsworthy, but there were some lessons learned.
District Judge Frederick Gannett, the presiding judge on the case, walked potential jurors through the process, starting with the difficulty of rounding up a panel as small as six people.
Roughly 65 people took most of the available seats in Courtroom 4 that morning. Gannett told the potential jurors that getting that many people to show up requires sending out about 250 summons letters.
Roughly one-third of those summoned will show up — with varying degrees of reluctance. Gannett said about one-third no longer live at their most recent known addresses.
The final third just don't show up.
While there are some valid excuses, Gannett mostly told potential jurors that civic duty is civic duty.
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With the pool set, names are selected at random to fill the 14 chairs in the jury box. In this particular civil trial — expected to last roughly three days — no alternates were selected.
As attorneys interviewed potential jurors — as a group and individually — a handful of people were weeded out for illness, physical infirmities or other reasons. Those people were replaced from more names chosen at random from the larger pool.
After the jury was picked, Gannett thanked those who weren't selected. Then, after those in the pool had spent all of a morning watching how the system works, he asked what he should do with those who didn't show up. People who don't answer a jury summons are essentially at the mercy of judges, who can cite no-shows for contempt of court.
People in the pool suggested various amounts of community service — one suggested 40 hours.
Gannett then told the pool members what he actually does: People who can be found will soon receive letters asking for an explanation of why they didn't answer the summons.
Those who answer with acceptable excuses will have their names put back into the broad pool of the county's jurors. Failure to answer a subsequent summons will result in a night in the county jail.
A larger group, those with what Gannett called "crappy" excuses, will be required to make a $50 donation to the charity of their choice — and provide proof of that donation. Those people will also be put back into the countywide pool, and failure to respond to the next summons will result in a night in the county lockup.
That won't change someone "from a poor citizen to a good one," Gannett said. But it sounds fair.
Citizens of this country have certain responsibilities. Jury duty is one of them. It's no fun — although more than one person in the jury pool expressed interest in the way this particular case turned out — but it's how our system works.
Answer that summons when you receive it. You probably won't have to serve, you'll be paid for the work you miss, and you'll definitely avoid the prospect of fines or jail time.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.
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