Duck jury duty, and you will be billed

A Berkeley County, W.Va., man fined $1,000 for "egregious" behavior in avoiding jury duty is among several who have been punishe

A Berkeley County, W.Va., man fined $1,000 for "egregious" behavior in avoiding jury duty is among several who have been punishe

June 24, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A Gerrardstown, W.Va., man who received a $1,000 fine for failing to appear last month in Berkeley County Circuit Court for jury duty in a murder trial wasn't the only prospective juror punished, according to records maintained by Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine.

In addition to slapping Philip Fisher V with a fine for what 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders described as "egregious" behavior in ducking jury duty, two other prospective jurors also were punished - Dale Averella was fined $150 and Dylan Corbin was fined $50.

They were among the five jurors who failed to appear for Thomas A. Dawson's murder trial, according to records. The other two jurors provided excuses that the court found acceptable, according to Sine's office.

Fisher, Corbin and Averella could not be reached for comment Friday.

A Martinsburg woman who owes the court a $300 fine for failing to appear for jury duty last summer also could not be located.


Records show Susan White was expected to make a $50 payment on her fine by June 28, 2006, for failing to appear for jury duty earlier that month, but never did.

When asked to review the court's file on White, Sine said notations made by clerks in her office indicate White failed to call the "jury (telephone) line," and later told a deputy clerk she wasn't coming to court before hanging up the phone.

Five others fined $25 for failing to appear for jury duty in June 2006 paid the citation, according to records.

Sine said no-shows complicate the workings of her office, and cost taxpayers more money because court proceedings are delayed.

"You drop what you're doing and everybody starts calling," Sine said.

Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes said Friday that he previously has fined people for failing to appear in Morgan County, but believes absenteeism among jury pools is a problem nationwide.

"People are so much busier now," Wilkes said.

For a trial that Wilkes presided over in March, 10 out of 60 prospective jurors failed to appear for duty.

Eleven prospective jurors also failed to appear for the murder trial for Timothy O'Dell last year, according to records. Two of those prospective jurors ultimately were excused.

"The biggest concern I have is that we ... get a jury of your peers," Wilkes said.

One of Sine's deputy clerks said that 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver has asked for 45 prospective jurors to be summoned for an upcoming civil trial and 60 for a criminal trial because of recent problems seating juries.

On May 30, when jury selection began for the Dawson trial, 14 prospective jurors out of 40 called were late, prompting Sanders to ask Sine's staff to call 10 more.

Sanders said Fisher's failure to appear played a part in extending the length of the Dawson trial to six days. The trial didn't begin until about 2:45 p.m., more than four hours after the jury selection process began.

Sanders last week said Fisher told the court he was "just too busy" to appear for jury duty.

Sine said she hoped the publicity generated by the fine given to Fisher serves as a wake-up call for others.

Wilkes said it tends to be easier for government employees and the unemployed to appear for jury duty than other sectors of the population.

"Jury service - I put it right up there with paying your taxes," Wilkes said.

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