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Franklin Co. contempt hearing can serve as a warning for any potential jury duty skippers

August 15, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Having twice failed to show up for jury selection, Terrance Williams was contrite Tuesday when he appeared for a juror contempt hearing before Franklin County Judge John R. Walker.

"It was complete negligence on my part," Williams told Walker.

Court Administrator Neil Burkholder told Walker that Williams did not acknowledge a summons to appear for jury duty in May, nor did he respond to a notice served by the sheriff's office to appear for the July trial term.

"I'm going to find you in contempt ... and I'm going to fine you $500," Walker said to Williams. He then offered Williams a way out of the fine and a possible 15-day jail sentence, telling him the contempt citation will be dropped if the Chambersburg man shows up for jury selection next month.

"We'll let bygones be bygones," Walker said. "What I'm really interested in is you serving jury duty."

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Walker wrote a note to Williams' employer as another reminder of the consequences of not showing up in September.

"I'll sign it 'Your friend,'" said Walker, noting he knows Williams' boss.

"I even had it marked on my calendar," Williams said after the hearing. After missing jury selection the second time, "I thought, 'Man, I'm in trouble,'" he said.

Williams said he was pleased with the treatment he received Tuesday. Walker said others have been less fortunate.

"I've jailed someone for seven days" for avoiding jury duty, Walker said. In other cases, people have been picked up on bench warrants and spent a day or two behind bars before being brought in for a hearing, he said.

Walker issued a bench warrant for a woman who failed to show for her hearing. The woman has said she cannot serve for health reasons, but failed to provide a doctor's letter to that effect, Burkholder told Walker.

The county has six trial terms a year, with 200 or more people selected each time for the jury pool, Burkholder said. There are few exceptions for avoiding jury duty, but different factors are taken into account, he said.

Police officers cannot be jurors in a criminal trial, but are eligible if it is a civil case, Burkholder said.

The schedules of health-care professionals are taken into consideration as well, but that is not a free pass off jury duty.

Health issues and scheduling for vacations also are taken into account, but reasons for not appearing for jury selection have to be documented, Burkholder said. Being excused for one trial term often means the person is rescheduled for a subsequent one, he said.

Appearing for jury selection, even if a person is not picked for a trial, means their name will be taken out of the rotation for three to four years, Burkholder said. Names for the jury pool used to be selected by computer from voter registration rolls, but that was expanded a number of years ago to include licensed drivers, he said.

Pay for a juror is just $9 per day and 17 cents per mile for travel, Burkholder said. If a trial lasts more than three days, each juror is paid $25 per day, he said.

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