HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva fined three people $100 each for failure to respond to summonses for jury duty.
Kopriva has the power to impose a $500 fine or 10 days of jail for those who ignore jury duty. She hasn't levied that level of punishment, but she did impose a type of slap-on-the-wrist this week by fining each $100 because they didn't respond in any way to their jury summonses.
Kopriva said she held hearings and levied the fines because she wants the public to know that there is a penalty for ignoring a court summons. She declined to identify the three fined.
Blair County residents are for the most part cooperative with the county call for jury duty, according to Jury Commissioners Joy Foreman and Vincent P. Frank.
They said that more than 3,000 residents have been called to jury duty this year and only 10 fell into the category of having completely ignored the summons.
Some of those cases had explanations that didn't require a hearing, but the judge did order three to appear in her courtroom to explain what occurred.
One was an accountant who was summoned during the busy tax season. He admitted he was too busy and didn't think he'd make a good juror anyway, so he ignored the summons.
Kopriva said she asked him if, as part of his business, the IRS called to talk to him, would he ignore the request? He told the judge he would not.
Her message was, "You don't ignore a court order."
Another man told the judge he just thought he wouldn't be a good juror.
The judge's message to him was to call or write the jury commissioners and explain the situation.
She said the person summoned to jury duty is not supposed to make a unilateral decision if they will or will not be a good juror. That decision is up to the county, the jury commissioners or the judge.
The third person was a young woman who said she was having marital problems and her husband was stealing her mail, and she never received the notice of jury duty.
Her mail problem has been straightened out, she said.
She was given a fresh summons for jury duty while she was in the courtroom.
Foreman and Frank said that they send two summonses to potential jurors.
Those who don't respond at all are sent another letter.
If the county doesn't hear from the potential jurors at that point, their names are referred to the judge for review.
"We've got to do something to make people know how important their service is," said Foreman.
She said it is likely those individuals who ignored the summons would have been excused anyway, but the county has to hear from them.
Kopriva and the jury commissioners began to take a hard look at the jury process last October when not enough residents appeared for the selection of a civil court jury.
An analysis showed that situation resulted from unusual circumstances. An unusual number of those called were elderly, and others were excused because of their association with the railroad, which was a party in the case.
More than half the jury panel had to be excused.