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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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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