Take jury summons seriously

The Blair County court system’s latest crackdown on people who’ve ignored summonses for jury duty, while commendable, could have been made more effective for both the short and longer terms.

Regarding some of the individuals who ignored their summonses multiple times, the $25 or $50 fines meted out were too lenient to deliver the kind of message that they deserved to receive and to convey an effective enough message to people summoned in the future.

Wasting county officials’ and employees’ time by forcing preparation of multiple summonses directed at the same people also wastes taxpayers’ money.

People summoned for jury service need to grasp the message that there might be an unhappy consequence for intentionally trying to snub this important responsibility.

Those who were issued fines on June 27 should consider themselves lucky, even though their wallets or pocketbooks were made a bit lighter as a result of their appearance before President Judge Elizabeth Doyle.

Many of them deserved worse, especially those whose ignored-summonses “record” fits the descriptions “habitual” and “irresponsible.”

There were individuals before Doyle that day who had ignored jury-service summonses seven times.

The court system must share some of the blame for the problem having gotten so out of hand; for the individuals in question, the crackdown took too long to initiate.

The county’s judges and other court officials need to meet and plot a beefed-up strategy for the future. Perhaps they should examine the compliance processes in some of the other Pennsylvania counties and how court officials in those counties address the problem.

It’s hard to fathom why anyone with a valid excuse for not being able to report for jury duty, especially health reasons or other special circumstances, would not call the courthouse to explain his or her situation. That’s just basic courtesy to the people charged with maintaining an efficient, effective court system.

The local court system has a record of being understanding.

Addressing those who stood before her on June 27, Doyle made the good points that jury duty often lasts only one day, and that “just because you undergo the jury-selection process doesn’t mean you’ll be selected for a case.”

Meanwhile, many individuals facing the prospect of a jury trial decide at the last minute to enter a guilty plea or accept a plea bargain to avoid prospects for a stiffer sentence.

Only a fraction of cases end up going to trial because of those options available to defendants.

But the fact remains — and Doyle made the point clear on June 27 — that people are entitled to have their cases heard by a jury of their peers, and summoning people for potential jury service is a necessary component of making that option available.

Good advice for Blair residents: If you receive a tri-folded letter-sized document with an American flag printed in color, along with capitalized red letters with the message “DO NOT DISCARD RESPONSE IS REQUIRED,” don’t regard it as junk mail. Open it, read it and make whatever arrangements are needed in order to comply.

It’s less of a hassle to report for jury duty when called than having to appear before a judge, pay a fine and still be required to report for jury service at some later date.