Getting tough on jurors

The problem of people ignoring jury duty summonses in Blair County isn’t new, and the court system has been a big cause of why the troubling situation has persisted for so long.

For too long, the court system failed to initiate a tough stance against the no-shows, despite having the authority to do so.

Based on what happened before President Judge Elizabeth Doyle on Oct. 30, however, it appears that a real time of reckoning has arrived, and that’s good news not only for the courts, but also for the taxpayers whose money finances court operations.

The court system shouldn’t be wasting time and money making multiple attempts to get summoned men and women to show up for that civic duty. In addition, court proceedings shouldn’t be jeopardized by numerous absences that make jury selection impossible, or nearly so.

On Oct. 30, the court’s coddling of no-shows ended — hopefully permanently.

Doyle meted out a $500 fine to a man who failed to show up for the first day of a trial for which he already had been selected to serve on a jury. In addition, Doyle fined a man and woman $100 each for missing the Sept. 17 jury selection process.

Excuses offered by all three rightly failed to convince Doyle that leniency was in order. However, Doyle imposed no fine against another woman who produced documentation regarding a medical condition that required hospital treatment.

Doyle suggested that perhaps she could be issued new summonses for jury duty next spring or summer — in all, a correct response by the judge.

Back on July 6, in the days after Doyle had imposed “pittance fines” of $25 and $50 on some individuals who had ignored jury summonses multiple times, the Mirror commented in an editorial that the fines 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.”

The July 6 editorial observed later that “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.”

The man who was handed the $500 fine on Oct. 30 has gotten the opportunity to experience that unwanted consequence, but he acknowledged that there was a “silver lining” in what the judge decided — that he wouldn’t have to spend time in jail.

But perhaps some jail time might be the right option in the future for some habitual no-shows to further bolster the message that Doyle delivered on Oct. 30 about jury service not being something that people can just ignore.

The July 6 Mirror editorial included the following advice: “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.”

A few hours of jury service is much more palatable than a lightened wallet or pocketbook.