- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King III has ordered 132 city residents to appear in court for jury duty or face a $300 fine and jail time.
"We have tried everything to make jury duty easy and sensible for everyone," Judge King said yesterday. "That has helped a little bit, but now we need to add sanctions."
Fewer than 25 percent of the 260,000 residents available for jury duty appear when they are summoned. "A large segment of people are not doing their share," Judge King said.
The court's crackdown targets residents who are known to have received notices for jury duty but ignored them. The court will send repeat notices until Judge King issues a summons for them to appear before him in court on a Friday at 9 a.m.
The residents he has summoned have received notice of jury duty since July 1, but did not appear or contact the court to ask for another time to serve. The summons orders them to appear before Judge King on Sept. 7. If they refuse, Judge King said he will likely jail them.
A rarely used law allows D.C. judges to fine errant jurors up to $300 and jail them for up to seven days for contempt of court, the judge said. He said judges had used the law to force people who were picked to serve on a jury to return during a trial, but there has never been a time where residents were threatened with fines and jail if they do not appear in court to be in a jury pool.
"This is the first time in the District of Columbia this has been done," Judge King said. "The ultimate goal is to have 100 percent of the people serve."
D.C. residents, who are selected from voter-registration rolls, are only required to report to jury duty every two years and serve either one day or for one trial. Jurors are paid $4 for transportation and $30 a day. The court provides free day care.
In Maryland, a new law requires courts to use lists of licensed drivers and registered voters to assemble jury pools. Scofflaws are held in contempt of court and can be arrested. A Baltimore man who said he missed jury duty because he overslept was fined $100 and sentenced to one day in jail in 1997.
In Virginia, jurors are selected from voter-registration and driver's license rolls, and scofflaws are held in contempt of court.
Samuel F. Harahan, executive director of the Council for Court Excellence, said he was glad Judge King is taking action to get residents to appear for jury duty. The Council for Court Excellence is a private, nonprofit corporation that studies court operations and has criticized the Superior Court's management.
"I applaud the chief judge to initiate something in this area. It is long overdue," Mr. Harahan said. "We have a problem of people not answering their summons. There is little excuse for people not serving."
The Council for Court Excellence studied the Superior Court jury system in 1997 and found that 62 percent of the people summoned to jury duty never received notices or ignored them. The study found that 18 percent of the people summoned actually showed up and served on jury duty.
Since then, the percentage of D.C. residents who respond to jury-duty notices is about 23 percent, but still 60 percent of the people on the jury rolls do not appear, Judge King said.
Paula Hannaford, senior research associate for the National Center for State Courts, said it is not unusual in urban areas to have such a high percentage of residents who fail to appear for jury duty. She said only 10 percent of the people summoned actually serve on juries in Los Angeles.
Miss Hannaford said in rural areas about 40 percent of the people summoned for jury duty respond; in urban areas, where people are more transient, the average is between 10 percent and 20 percent.
She said it is rare, however, to summon potential jurors under threat of jail, but it is being done. She said New York City holds court for people who do not appear.
"This has gotten to be a fairly hot item," Miss Hannaford said. "Until two years ago, you could have counted on one hand the number of courts that follow up on nonresponses. D.C. is just on the cutting edge."


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