Archive for Thursday, October 7, 1999

JUDGE MAY END UP IN JURY BOX

October 7, 1999

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Michael Malone says he would be glad to trade his judicial robe for a juror's badge, if called for jury duty this month.

Don't expect Michael Malone to come up with an excuse to get out of jury duty this month, if he makes it through the selection process.

It's not that Malone hasn't heard dozens of excuses in his 17 years as a Douglas County district judge. He's just ready -- and willing -- to do his civic duty.

"I'm really pleased this happened," said Malone, whose name popped up on a list of 400 potential jurors called by computers to serve throughout this month. The names come from voter registration and driver's license records.

Malone hasn't been chosen for a jury pool yet, but his name will remain on the list until the end of this month. As the administrative judge for the Seventh Judicial District, he oversees the jury selection process for the Douglas County court divisions.

If Malone is asked to appear in court, attorneys for the state or defendants can choose to remove him, but that might not happen.

"All I can say is that every attorney has said, 'Judge, I wouldn't strike you,'" Malone said.

Civic duty or not, Malone said he's glad to see how the process works from another angle. With 4,800 juror questionnaires mailed each year in Douglas County, Malone said it's important to consider how jury duty affects them.

Recent changes in the jury system in the county are making the process less of a burden, Malone said. For the past year, judges have allowed some jurors to postpone jury duty for up to six months in some cases. For example, teachers can request to be deferred until the summer, or someone with a planned vacation or business obligations can work around them.

Malone said that cuts down on the number of people excused from jury duty altogether.

"It seems to work pretty well," he said. "We were getting an awful lot of valid excuses for hardships, but now we can defer them."

That's important in Douglas County, Malone said, because the population is somewhat transient and an average of only 60 percent report to jury duty. The Douglas County courts need about 200 jurors each month.

Throughout a jury trial, jurors sometimes wait while attorneys settle legal disputes in front of the judge, leaving them with time, but no way to spend it inside the jury room. Malone said reading materials and a television are now provided to keep them occupied.

"We're trying to be more considerate of the time they're giving us," he said. "Jurors are performing a civic duty and they should be treated with respect."

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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