11/03/09 — Court will change rule for jury duty

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Court will change rule for jury duty

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 3, 2009 12:57 PM

When the doors of the Wayne County Courthouse opened Sept. 14, court officials had asked 200 people to show for jury duty.

Of those 200 issued summons, the court saw exactly 38 show up to serve.

Clearly, that is a problem, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones said.

And unfortunately, while that mid-September day set one of the lowest turnout records in recent memory -- and perhaps in county history -- low turnout is not an uncommon occurrence, the judge said.

However, new rules being considered may help, Jones said, as the court system faces continuing problems with the jury pool.

"Our percentage of people who show up for jury service, relative to the number of notices sent, has been declining," Jones said.

But Sept. 14 in particular was a wake-up call, Wayne County Clerk of Courts Pam Minshew said.

"We were below 25 percent," Mrs. Minshew said. "That's very unusual, that's the worst it's been."

Instead of simply bemoaning the low turnout, the judge and court clerk say they plan on doing something about it.

Although it is not a complete revamping of the process, Jones said he believes a "second-chance" system will impose some accountability on jurors.

Potential jurors will be notified four weeks ahead of the day they are expected to report, giving them a chance to confer with the courts on Wednesday mornings.

That might weed out some people who cannot serve as jurors due to medical or other reasons, the judge said.

For those who do not report for duty and have not made arrangements with the court in advance, Jones and the Sheriff's Office will be given a list of names.

"I will send a follow-up letter, and the sheriff will call," Jones said. "Those who did not show ... will be given a second date to show up.

"There's a human element in all this ... sometimes people are away, they forget, they don't open their mail," the judge said.

But on the date of their "second chance," if a juror does not show, Jones will issue an order for the absent juror to appear before him to show cause for missing jury duty.

"They need to show cause why I should not find them in contempt of court, which could include a fine, and possibly time in jail," Jones said.

In tight economic times, one of the motivations is efficient spending of taxpayer funds, the judge said.

"We are really trying to be efficient with court time, court money, and when we don't have enough jurors to try a case, that shuts us down," Jones said.

"I want everybody to understand that I've got enough work to do, with the calendar of things that's presented to me on Monday morning. If we don't address it now, it's a problem that will continue to fester and manifest."