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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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