- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

A man was arrested several months ago at a Massachusetts construction site after a police check of his vehicle’s license plate indicated he had an outstanding warrant for shirking jury duty.

The incident is part of a growing national trend by courts to crack down on those who dodge jury duty.

In state courts, particularly those in metropolitan areas, juror delinquency rates are as high as 40 percent, says G. Thomas Musterman, director of the Virginia-based Center for Jury Studies of the National Center for State Courts. A study in Dallas County, Texas, showed that about 80 percent of people there who receive jury summonses ignore them.

“The need for jurors is greater today than ever before, because half of the courts in the United States have policies that limit jurors either to one day or one trial,” Mr. Musterman said. “So more and more courts realize they should do something” to reduce the problem of juror delinquency.

Massachusetts is taking a particularly aggressive approach to enforcing jury-duty laws. It makes repeat violators criminal defendants for shunning jury duty, and courts can impose fines of up to $2,000.

“Massachusetts has the only statewide centralized system [for administering juries], and we’re very pleased with the success of our program. At the end of the day, 85 percent of those who start out as delinquents wind up meeting their obligations,” said Pamela J. Wood, the state jury commissioner.

Ms. Wood pointed out that last year, nearly 48,500 Massachusetts residents failed to show up for jury duty, despite repeated warnings. Courts across the state had the right to treat these no-shows as criminal defendants, and at least some were forced to pay $2,000 fines.

As for the man arrested at the construction site, Ms. Wood said, charges were dismissed against him after it was shown he had “resolved his delinquency by serving” on a jury.

She cited other cases, such as drivers being handcuffed after routine traffic stops after police discovered outstanding warrants for missed jury duty, and a Boston investment banker who was fined $2,000 for missing two days of a three-day civil trial, falsely claiming he was sick.

The tougher enforcement seems to be working, Ms. Wood said. The juror delinquency rate for Massachusetts in 2003 was 6.3 percent, down from 13 percent in 1996.

Other jurisdictions have followed Massachusetts’ lead in getting tough on no-shows.

In New York County (including Manhattan) last year, officials imposed $250 fines on 1,443 persons who dodged jury duty. Since November, state trial courts around Phoenix have dispatched sheriffs’ deputies to the homes of violators with orders to appear for sanction hearings.

During the first six months of this year, Los Angeles County, which Mr. Musterman said needs 10,000 jurors on any given day, imposed penalties of more than $940,000 on residents who failed to serve on juries.

Mr. Musterman said not all prospective jurors deliberately fail to appear. Typically, “25 percent can’t be reached,” because of outdated address information, he said.

In Massachusetts, Ms. Wood said, “by the time anyone gets a criminal complaint, they’ve had no fewer than six notices.”

While some jurisdictions are trying to snare more jurors with get-tough policies, others are offering financial incentives to lure them.

For instance, Baltimore courts began a program last month that offers jurors all-day parking for $4 and a free beverage at five downtown restaurants for those who buy a sandwich. Jurors are paid $15 a day in Baltimore. The city calls as many as 900 people to jury duty every day in hopes of getting 250.

Arizona passed a law this year that will pay jurors up to $300 a day in trials exceeding 10 days. Arizona jurors now are paid $12 a day, and officials say the average trial in that state lasts less than four days.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma have enacted laws that will provide more money for long trials. Lawmakers in about 20 states will consider similar legislation this year, according to the New Jersey Law Journal.

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