Low turnouts for jury duty delay criminal trials

2013-09-01T19:30:00Z 2015-10-22T22:45:06Z Low turnouts for jury duty delay criminal trialsBy Tony Lystra / The Daily News Longview Daily News
September 01, 2013 7:30 pm  • 

Too few people are showing up for jury duty, causing court officials to delay criminal cases, costing thousands of dollars and wasting hours of court time, Cowlitz County Superior Court officials said last week.

Three cases were delayed in August — one of them for only a half day — after too many people ignored their jury summons and the jury pool didn’t contain 12 acceptable jurors, the officials said.

“It’s getting bad,” said Sue Anderson, the jury management clerk in the Cowlitz County Superior Court Clerk’s Office. “It’s been a problem for a while, but it seems to be getting worse.”

It is a misdemeanor to ignore a summons for jury duty, but few courts, including those in Cowlitz County, enforce the law, said Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning.

Why did so many decline to show up last month?

It may simply be a matter of summer vacations, Warning said. Or perhaps struggling families are ignoring the summons because they can’t afford to skip work. But Warning said he suspects the reason for dwindling jury pools runs deeper — too many people don’t feel a sense of responsibility to their community.

“I always tell the jurors who do come in that we do an excellent job of teaching people in school the notion of your civic rights. We do a very poor job, apparently, of teaching people civic responsibility. And they are not independent of each other,” Warning said. “Nobody wants to be on jury duty, but everybody wants a jury trial if it’s their issue.”

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Marilyn Haan declared a mistrial in the felony harassment case of Jerome Moody because too few potential jurors showed up to serve. A new trial will be scheduled later.

Earlier this month, the assault trial of Christopher Poma was delayed for the same reason. That delay was especially costly because it was being presided over by retired Superior Court Judge Jim Stonier, whom the county must pay when he occasionally fills in for vacationing judges.

And last week, jury selection in the trial of accused meth dealer Sidney Potts stalled for a half day Tuesday because too few jurors showed up. Superior Court Judge Michael Evans asked court clerks to call the no-show jurors during the lunch hour and demand that they come to the courthouse. Evans said he personally called some of the people who ignored their summons.

“Most were apologetic and promised to respond next time,” Evans said. “A few had valid reasons for not being present but failed to communicate those reasons to the court and clerk.”

(Eventually enough jurors showed up for the Potts trial to proceed — until it was derailed by another snafu during jury selection. The case is scheduled to begin again with a new jury pool on Tuesday.)

By law, the county mails summons to randomly selected potential jurors. Court officials said they send out between 500 and 550 each month. Of those, they said, two-thirds are useless because the recipients have moved or they’re disqualified from serving because they have felony criminal records. Others petition the court to be excused for a host of reasons: financial hardship, a scheduled vacation, a child care problem, sickness. And then, of the remaining who are qualified to serve, about 15 percent “blow us off,” Warning said. Some mail their responses back with “colorful” suggestions that can’t be printed.

Each time a trial is delayed it jams up the already overloaded court system, pushing back other criminal and civil proceedings, Warning said. Warning estimated it costs $400 an hour to run a local courtroom, not counting the cost of public defenders and prosecutors. The cash-strapped county government can’t afford to waste that money, he said.

In the case of last week’s drug trial of Sidney Potts, only 43 of the 65 citizens who received jury summons showed up. That wasn’t enough for two reasons, several judges said: One, the case has been written about in detail in the press; and, two, so many people are affected by the area’s drug problems that many potential jurors were dismissed because of conflicts of interest and other concerns.

After court officials called those who had ignored their summons, another 14 showed up Tuesday afternoon, bringing the total in the pool to 57, which Evans considered acceptable.

Not everyone is shirking his or her civic duty. “I had two people call me last week and ask if they could serve,” Anderson said. And it’s not that court officials aren’t sympathetic to the plight of jurors.

“We give them ten bucks a day, which is an insult,” Warning said. “That number was set, I think, in 1951. The judges have tried to get it increased, but the Legislature doesn’t have any money. Ten bucks barely pays for your lunch.”

Anderson said many in the jury pool, quite understandably, would rather be at work. They “don’t want to miss that paycheck,” she said. “I know times are tough.”

Copyright 2016 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(22) Comments

  1. cowlitz88
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    cowlitz88 - September 01, 2013 8:20 pm
    Ten bucks a day, and mileage for one way only, is exactly why there is a shortage of jurors when the economy is this bad. People can't afford to miss work for jury duty, and many employers will not compensate you for that.
  2. Quit Yer Bitchen
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    Quit Yer Bitchen - September 02, 2013 7:09 am
    Throw em jail.
  3. Big Guy
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    Big Guy - September 02, 2013 8:51 am
    Could it also be we have lost faith in the judicial system and feel it is a waste of time?
  4. boo
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    boo - September 02, 2013 10:22 am
    There are a lot of us who are civic minded, but we don't get called to serve.
  5. OldIrish
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    OldIrish - September 02, 2013 10:55 am
    Been there, done that, talked to many fellow jurors. The big put-off is uncertainty about how long your life will be tied up. Many are willing to serve for a couple days but there's a fear of getting caught up in a LONG trial. Not many households/jobs/lives can tolerate being tied up for 2-3-4 weeks....and that's what people are most worried about and why they are so reluctant. Just my 2-cents/my experience. I'll add that, overall, my experience as a juror was interesting and informative.
  6. juswunderin
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    juswunderin - September 02, 2013 3:09 pm
    I have been a registered voter for 40 years and have never been called. I would love to serve on a jury, but I'm told it is a random selection? How random is it when I've NEVER been selected and people I know are chosen every year?
  7. Longpew
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    Longpew - September 02, 2013 9:21 pm
    If the Government would make it mandatory for employers to pay their employees their regular wage if the employee surrenders their jury duty check to the employer more people would come to serve. The company I work for pays for jury duty only if I give them my jury duty check. Every employer should have to do this since jury duty is mandatory by the government and as a citizen you have no choice unless you want to break the law and not serve you community.
  8. Cheney119er
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    Cheney119er - September 03, 2013 4:42 am
    Hey smart guy! Do you realize what that would cost?
  9. subieman
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    subieman - September 03, 2013 9:28 am
    I know that I didn't care for it!!!
  10. campbell2
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    campbell2 - September 03, 2013 10:46 am
    I live in Mason County. My husband and I get called to jury duty once a year (since moving here in 2004) because the county uses the SAME list every year and they never update it. When I complained to the Clerk, she shared with me that they've also called dead people multiple times due to this screwed up system. This is why there are few who attend: desensitized due to over demand. This has become a running joke with my employer.
  11. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 1:41 pm
    Your point is most valid, "OldIrish". I am self-employed--and, whenever I have asked to be excused based solely upon that premise, my plea has been routinely been ignored. As a taxpayer and law-abiding citizen, this immediately puts me at odds with the jury selection process. It annoys me further when I'm concerned about my daily income whilst a lawyer is being paid (not necessarily "earning") at least $200.00/hour for his or her "sevices". I reckon that makes me a lousy candidate for jury duty.
  12. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 1:49 pm
    "cowlitz88": Please read my reply to "OldIrish"--my feelings exactly. The article states, "By law, the county mails summons to randomly selected potential jurors" and that "It is a misdemeanor to ignore a summons for jury duty". This begs the question: if the summons is sent by mail (not certified or registered mail), and a person simply chooses to ignore it, how can the court prove that the summons was successfully delivered to and/or received by said citizen? Just a thought...
  13. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 1:50 pm
    "boo", I am civic minded--but you can take my place anytime (LOL)!
  14. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 2:02 pm
    "Longpew", I am self-employed--so who will compensate me for my time? If I were reimbursed for my time spent in the courtroom (by whomsoever), I would gladly serve. Also, as I stated in my reply to "cowlitz88", if a person chose to discard his/her summons (and claim that he/she did not receive it), what institution could actually prove that said person did indeed successfully receive the summons? No receipt, no signature, no proof, wintness(es), no case. I haven't done it, but I've wondered...
  15. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 2:03 pm
    Oops! That should read, "witness(es)...
  16. Wisdom
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    Wisdom - September 03, 2013 2:47 pm
    Here's another one, "OldIrish": My last vacation was 17 years ago because I can't afford the time off. As you had mentioned, "not many households can tolerate being tied up for 2-3-4 weeks". I daresay, if I'm going to finally take even one week off from work, I don't want to spend that time in a courtroom. Not that I'm not "civic-minded", but the Oregon Coast sounds much more appealing!
  17. Aaron_Kightlinger
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    Aaron_Kightlinger - September 03, 2013 9:02 pm
    Ha! There's an intelligent design joke in there, somewhere, just aching to get out.
  18. Hawaiin_surf
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    Hawaiin_surf - September 04, 2013 6:19 am
    I would like to know why when these people are GUILTY, time and money is wasted for this. Drug dealers should be eliminated from the planet.
  19. Hawaiin_surf
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    Hawaiin_surf - September 04, 2013 6:20 am
    Does this loser actually think he is going to get off the hook?? He is guilty and he is a loser, that whole family is nothing but trash and they shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.
  20. Questionauthority
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    Questionauthority - September 06, 2013 3:07 pm
    Bring down the court system by not showing up for jury duty. This is brilliant. Is a jury duty strike in order?
  21. kitten
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    kitten - January 25, 2014 9:30 am
    I don't understand the uncertainty of jury duty. Call in every day for two weeks? Why? Can't the system even get organized enough to know their own schedule? Either you need me or you don't. Even better is when they have you spend half a day waiting in the waiting area and then dismiss you. That's happened to me twice. Maybe the courts should get more organized.
  22. leeway
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    leeway - August 04, 2015 10:34 am
    I showed up for jury duty and the X-ray machine ruined my cell phone. Right after it was exposed to the machine so I expect that it has affected the logic in one or more of the processor chips inside the phone, something that might not happen consistantly to each and every cell phone or it may take a number of exposures. Ten dollars does not cover this do you think? Not to mention that it is a little hard to call in now and find out when the next session will be.
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