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Archive for Monday, October 17, 2005

District court threatens jury duty no-shows

Those who ignore summonses could face contempt charges

October 17, 2005

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— Shawnee County court officials have been cracking down on people who don't show up for jury duty.

Through the end of September, more people summoned to serve on a jury had ducked their court date than the number who answered.

In some cases, lawyers almost ran out of qualified jurors, which would have required the presiding judge to send sheriff's deputies into the courthouse halls or nearby neighborhood to grab potential replacements.

Considering that the court system has more jury trials these days - so far this year, the court has held 79 jury trials compared with 67 during the same period last year - it's a problem Chief Judge Richard Anderson isn't taking lightly.

Anderson has begun sending letters warning no-shows that they could be held in contempt for not reporting for duty and be forced to pay a $100 fine for each day of unexcused absence.

"The yield reported on this report is really pathetic," Anderson said, ruminating on the court's latest figures showing only 3,407 people reported for jury duty through the first nine months of 2005. By comparison, 3,984 didn't show and 7,705 people were excused for reasons ranging from not being county residents to being dead.

In 2004, 3,922 people reported for jury duty but 3,130 didn't, a no-show rate of 44.4 percent.

Court administrator Don Troth said this year's disappointing numbers point to a misunderstanding of how the nation's judicial system works.

"Sometimes I think we take things for granted and try to push our responsibilities off on other people when we should stand up and answer that call," Troth said.

Earlier this month, Anderson seated a jury in a criminal case with one potential juror to spare. If attorneys in the case had dismissed enough potential jurors to require more, Anderson said he would have to round up new ones from the streets of Topeka.

"Neither you nor I would want to have a case before a jury that we had to bring in in handcuffs," he said.

Jury coordinator Colleen Speaker said she had mailed out 168 jury notices and 67 of those called failed to show up.

Anderson told Speaker to send follow-up letters telling the no-shows to report for jury duty or appear before the court to explain why they shouldn't be found guilty of contempt.

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