Jury issues in northern Indiana

February 21, 2011
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Two northern Indiana counties’ jury duty policies have made the news recently. In St. Joseph County, Superior Judge Michael Scopelitis is ordering more than 700 residents to come to court in March to tell him why they chose to ignore jury questionnaires mailed back in October. According to a South Bend Tribune article, about 18 percent of St. Joseph County residents who got these questionnaires ignored them.

The judge is tired of people thinking they can get away with not performing their civic duty, so now those 700 or so residents have court orders to come to court. The article also cites the time and money it costs to create and mail the questionnaires. Looks like those who tried to avoid spending time in a courtroom won’t be able to avoid it now.

And those who showed up for their civic duty in Lake Superior’s Civil Division will find themselves having to pay for their own lunches now. An article in The Times says budget cuts forced the Civil Division to do away with lunch payments for jurors. Chief Superior Judge John Pera said he is “frustrated” and “embarrassed” by the cut. He hopes to find a way to reinstate the lunch privileges for civil juries.

The general consensus among the public is dread when they receive a notice in the mail about possible jury duty. Like most things, ignoring the jury questionnaire and hoping it goes away doesn’t actually make the questionnaire or the legal responsibility to respond disappear. There are a few people out there who enjoy jury service, but for those who don’t, little incentives like free lunches help ease the pain. Taking those away may result in more counties finding themselves in the situation of Judge Scopelitis.

Should jurors receive free lunches or other benefits or should they just accept they are required to be jurors and do the deed with no kind of compensation?

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  • We Lawyers Must Act to Preserve Our Courts
    We lawyers should not ignore a story like this. Unfortunately, these two unrelated stories are being repeated in other parts of the country. They are indicative of the growing lack of respect that the public has for our judiciary. The failure or refusal to return jury questionnaires is disrespectful of the courts, and it demonstrates that the public also realizes that they can ignore the courts and in many instances the courts lack the money and the personnel to chase down people who ignore jury summonses. The cutting of budgets for core court activities, like taking care of jurors, is also indicative of the lack of respect that the public and the other branches of government have for the needs of the courts. In Lake County it is lunches for jurors. In other counties and states judges don't have adequate technology or research assistance. In some places the courts are running out of money to even be open five days a week. This is just the beginning of the erosion of our court system. Every one of us involved in the legal profession needs to be vigilant of these signs of erosion of our courts. When these events occur, local and state bar associations need to step forward to assist the courts in maintaining their budgets and they need to speak to the public so that the public will understand that the courts deserve their respect and adequate funding.
  • Professional Juries might be the answer
    As you note, there are people who enjoy being jurors. Why not allow people to be "professional jurors"? Some of us get paid for jury duty. Why not allow us to volunteer to serve, and let people pick a convenient time (month/week) to serve? These simple reforms might improve the ability to get people to attend, and reduce the number of exemptions for those who who (but do not want to be there).
  • Citizen's Rights
    If this is TRULY a govt. "of the people,by the people,and for the people,then the "people" should be the ones to decide whether or not they want to serve on jury duty.The politicians are the ones who deem it a "privilege" and and "duty" for citizens to be inconvenienced for something they may not otherwise choose to do. But of course, the politicians also say it is the duty of the poor and middle class to be "patriotic" and die in wars, yet this same "patriotic" duty is not extended to the rich and the politicians kids. Who runs this country anyway??? The politicians,or the people???
  • dying republic
    Citizenship in America is little better than residency anymore, and the average American has become a hard pressed slave of global capitalism. Exactly how does the average person have time for jury duty. I appreciate the legal process but if the "people" want a jury system then they should be able to compensate jurors according at least to minimum wage and pass employment incentives on to employers of some kind as well. Otherwise people will keep on skipping because they have to do so as a matter of economic survival.

    PS Judge Scopelitis runs a tight ship I hear and I applaud his frank action to expose this problem.

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