Civil court trial canceled because of too few jurors

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County’s difficulty with getting potential jurors to respond has surfaced again.

A civil court trial, John Bankert v. Consolidated Rail Corp./ Norfolk Southern Railway Inc., was scheduled to start Tuesday. But it was canceled after the jury selection process failed Monday.

Of 250 potential jurors called, only 42 responded, and many of the 42 had a connection to Conrail and/or Norfolk Southern.

“I had to declare a mistrial,” said Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, who was set to preside over the trial expected to extend through Friday. “It was a shame that we could not get a jury for this case because everybody was scheduled to go forward.”

Court Administrator Janice Meadows said her office is in contact with attorneys in the case to see if their schedules will accommodate a jury selection process in November or December, when other juries are being picked.

Sullivan said he would like to see the case rescheduled as soon as possible.

From time to time, Blair County leaders have complained about potential jurors failing to respond to the county’s summons.

In January 2009, court leaders reported 114 no-shows on a jury selection day that left them with 158 people to consider for

multiple criminal court juries.

Since then, the county has adopted a practice allowing judges to levy as much as a $500 fine and 10 days in jail for those who ignore a jury selection summons for the second time.

Sullivan said court personnel will be checking to see if those who failed to respond Monday have previously failed to respond.

The judge also said he tried, after jury selection failed, to work on a settlement with the parties, but no agreement could be reached.

Bankert sued Conrail and Norfolk Southern in May 2010, alleging that he developed occupational hearing loss and repetitive stress injuries to his spine, arms and legs, impairing his ability to earn money and leading to a severe loss of earnings.