Marion Superior and Circuit judges showed their appreciation to the people who answered the summons for jury duty by offering them ice cream and conversation on a summer afternoon.
The inaugural Juror Appreciation Day was held Saturday at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, just north of downtown Indianapolis. Residents who had reported for jury duty between June 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019, were invited spend part of their weekend touring the grounds, mingling, and enjoying some cool treats from Brics in the Broad Ripple neighborhood.
The Harrison home was the ideal backdrop for the event because it underscored the importance of civic duty. Marion Superior Judge James Osborn said a jury deliberation was a true democratic process. Every person serving has an equal voice and equal vote regardless of education, wealth or status.
However, in Marion County, the response rate has dropped in recent years to just 32 percent of the residents who receive a jury summons actually showing up at the courthouse, according to Osborn.
Indianapolis courts have been instituting changes to make jury service easier.
The summons cards have been enlarged and are now printed on yellow stock so they do not get lost among the bills and flyers that arrive in a resident’s mail. Also, the courts pay for jurors’ parking and provide bus passes.
To make serving convenient, a new system is being rolled out that sends texts to remind people they have to report for jury duty. Also, the courts are starting a new payment process so jurors can get their $40 immediately for each day they serve rather than waiting weeks for the check to arrive in the mail.
The ice cream social was a way to offer thanks and change the perception of being called to sit in a jury box. Marion Superior Judge Alicia Gooden said people automatically think they are going to have to serve on a death penalty case that will last for weeks. In reality, most trials last one to three days and are not murder cases.
Tim Hanna sat under the big tent and enjoyed some mocha chip. He had been called for jury duty three times and been seated on two juries.
“There’s nothing scary about it,” he said, adding many have misconceptions of the law but serving on a jury can bring a better understand of the process. “If we didn’t have the justice system, it would be chaos.”
Marion County judges had been mulling for some time what they could do as an extra thank you to jurors who had been willing to serve. They had thought of offering coffee and doughnuts for an extended period at the courthouse but that might not have been convenient for the former jurors and would not have included their families.
President Harrison’s home provided a relaxed space for the jurors to bring their families and meet the judges, court staff and other jurors.
And the cool treats were added insurance that the jurors knew how grateful the judges were. As Charles Hyde, president and CEO of the site, said, “We all feel appreciated when we’re given ice cream.”