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Fulfilling jury duty is serious business

March 16, 2007|by ERIN JULIUS

Jurors who fail to arrive for jury duty more than once might have Sheriff's deputies knocking on their door, and working out of town or caring for small children are not valid reasons for residents to be excused from jury duty, according to Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Dennis Weaver.

Any Washington County resident registered to vote or holding a driver's license or a state identification card could be called to jury duty, he said. Each year, 1,200 people are randomly chosen to serve as jurors for criminal and civil cases. Another 46 people serve as grand jurors.

About 3,500 potential jurors are contacted via a qualification form they are expected to fill out and return to the court, Weaver said. Those forms are used to show who is still living in Washington County and who is qualified, Weaver said.

Holding a driver's license and being registered to vote does not increase a person's chances of serving on a jury, and only people 18 years or older serve, Weaver said.

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Court clerks do work with jurors' schedules when jurors call in ahead of time requesting to be excused for a day, Weaver said.

"We work with them as much as possible, even for vacations," Weaver said.

But if jurors repeatedly don't arrive for their service, the potential penalty for failing to show good cause for not appearing is $1,000, 60 days in jail or both, Weaver said.

Each year, two or three jurors don't show up, and Washington County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Frederick C. Wright has to take action against them, Weaver said.

Wright is the only person empowered to excuse a juror for his or her full term of service if the juror has a compelling reason not to serve, Weaver said.

Each month, 100 jurors serve as the pool of trial jurors. Once those jurors are chosen, they receive a summons in the mail. They call into the court every Thursday to get a tentative schedule for the following week, Weaver said.

Clerks work hard to minimize the number of times jurors have to appear in court during the month they serve, but inevitably, some jurors arrive at court but do not sit on a jury.

Just showing up is an important part of the process.

"Often, the mere presence of a jury will convince a defendant to plead guilty, or convince parties in civil case to settle," Weaver said.

For their service, jurors receive $15 a day plus mileage reimbursement.

Grand jurors serve for a term of six months. A new grand jury is empanelled in March and in September. Grand jurors usually serve seven to 10 days during their term, Weaver said.

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