O'BRIEN: Skipping out on jury duty is nothing but trouble

Posted: Jul. 18, 2014 6:12 pm Updated: Oct. 10, 2014 7:15 pm

I did my civic duty earlier this week.

For the second time in my 17 1/2 years of living in Adams County, I was summoned for jury duty. I was probably the only one of the 60 or so jurors who showed up for work on Monday bummed that I wasn't going to be selected to serve.

I was a juror in a 2006 drug case and enjoyed it. I was the Herald-Whig's sports editor at the time, and it was partly because of that experience that I told myself that if the crime beat ever opened up that I would look into it. It did, and August will mark my second year in the world of local crime and punishment.

My current job made it unlikely that I would to be asked to serve. I know too many lawyers and police officers these days to be fair and impartial to both sides.

Watching the justice system in action is fascinating. You won't get rich doing it. Adams County jurors get $12.50 per day and a mileage allowance of 25 cents per mile. Yes, it's an inconvenience to your routine for a few days, but you are making a difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather be anywhere else but a courtroom. Jury absenteeism is a problem in some states. In Michigan, a judge in Lenawee County last week called 34 people to court who skipped out on their summons. That was about half of the jury pool that was expected for the month of June.

The 28 who later showed up to face the judge got off with a stern warning, while six who failed to show again now have contempt of court warrants out for their arrest. Each will have to post $1,000 bond to get out of jail once he or she is arrested.

Things are just as bad in other places. Only between 23 and 33 percent of eligible jurors have been reporting for duty the last two months in Hernando County, according to a report in the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Tribune.

Juror absenteeism is even higher in Texas, with 80 percent of potential jurors failing to show up in some counties. Judges in Midland County, Texas, are starting to hit people where it hurts by issuing fines to those who don't show. Since 2011, county judges have levied fines totalling $45,000 to jury duty dodgers.

In Illinois -- like most other states -- if you are summoned to serve, you must appear or risk being held in contempt of court. The Adams County Jury Commission reminds jurors that deputies with the Adams County Sheriff's Department could come calling if they decide to shirk their responsibilities and not show up.

It appeared my group had 100 percent attendance.

Even though there is a whole list of articles online about how to get out of jury duty, it's best if you don't pay attention to any of them and just show up when you're asked. The worst thing you can do is concoct a story to wriggle out of your commitment.

A woman recently tried to talk her way out of jury service in Adams County. She wound up talking herself into trouble once the court found out that she wasn't being honest. Instead of fining the woman and tossing her in jail, the judge opted to invite her back the next month and observe all of the jury trials from an observation room.

At the current rate, I should be back in the jury pool around 2023 or so.

Looking forward to maybe serving by then.


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