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Monday, February 15, 2010

Jury Duty

Serving on juries is an important duty of citizenship. But in Los Angeles County, it is increasingly difficult to find jurors. The Los Angeles Times reports:
In this time of double-digit unemployment and shrinking benefits for those who do have jobs, courts are finding it more difficult to seat juries for trials running more than a day or two. And in extreme cases, reluctance has escalated into rebellion, experts say ... Money woes inflicted by the recession have spurred more hardship claims, especially by those called for long cases, say jury consultants and courtroom administrators. More than a quarter of all qualified jurors were released on hardship grounds last year, according to court statistics. And judges say they have seen more people request such dismissals in the last year.


"The economic situation has really put attorneys and judges in an awkward position of having to say to someone who is the sole wage earner in a family or someone who is self-employed and doesn't get paid when they don't work that they have to serve, and we have more and more of those," said Jaine E. Fraser, a psychologist and jury consultant who sat in for the asbestos jury selection before the parties settled.

People on the margins of society tend to be more sympathetic with victims bringing suit, and excluding them on hardship grounds can disadvantage plaintiffs, Fraser said. But it's also risky, she noted, to force people into jury service that will cut deeply into their paychecks.
In Michigan, law student Phillip Ellison faced the dilemma of doing jury duty and forfeiting a semester's tuition (the law school would not excuse his absence) or shirking duty and facing contempt of court charges. He managed to defer the duty to winter break but meanwhile found an oddity in the law. High school students could postpone their service until the end of school year but postsecondary students could not. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports:
So Ellison wrote a letter to his area legislators and members of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee about his situation and proposed a solution to allow college students to defer their jury service. He also asked that colleges and universities be prohibited from retaliating or “punishing” students for serving on jury duty.

“I was called by Tonya Schuitmaker (the Republican representative from Lawton), who said, ‘Wow, great idea. We never heard of this before,’” Ellison said “I did talk to Mark Meadows’ (the Democratic representative from East Lansing) staff.

“The next thing I hear is a bill’s coming out to do absolutely what I asked them to do.”

Meadows announced last week the introduction of a bill to allow full-time college students to postpone serving as jurors while they are taking classes.