The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 18, 2013

Don't ignore jury summons | Court follows through with fines for no-shows

JOHNSTOWN — You were warned.

Cambria County court has followed through on a promise to fine prospective jurors who refused to respond to jury summons or who were not excused.

Six residents will have their wallets lightened by as much as $100, and 11 more have been ordered to go through the jury selection process again as a result of contempt of court hearings held over the past few weeks.

The court had to resort to the fines because the problem of residents refusing to report for jury duty has reached a crescendo. In February, 43 people out of 215 who received summons for jury duty flat-out refused to appear at the courthouse. That shouldn’t be.

“We just have to put some teeth into it (jury selection process),” Cambria County Judge Norman Krumenacker said in February. “It’s not fair to those who do show up and do their duty.”

The threat of monetary penalties was enough to scare residents into responding to jury summons. But, in October, when the court tried to pick a jury for a child sex abuse case, court personnel had to issue a second call for jurors, and the process dragged on into the next day.

Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany and other county jurists know how inconvenient jury duty can be. Some residents may have problems rearranging their work schedules. Others may face child care challenges. And still others might be taxed with transportation issues. Some residents are put off by the lengthy interview and selection process and the frustration of being released from jury duty just before a trial is to begin due to a plea-bargain settlement.

But, said Creany, anyone presenting a “fair excuse” will be put on a different panel, but that individual will not be released from serving.

“Unless you’re told by people in the jury commissioners’ office that you are excused, you must appear.”

Defendants have a right, make that a guarantee, that they are to be judged by a jury of their peers. That is better than being judged by a panel of biased individuals, which is what could happen if not enough people are available to effectively select a nonbiased jury.

Cambria County is a very lenient county when it comes to excusing prospective jurors, William Valko, court administrator, said in February. But that is no excuse for residents to just ignore a jury summons.

Beginning next year, county residents receiving a summons will have to supply a telephone number and an email address, if available, Creany said.

Serving as a juror is a fundamental obligation, and privilege, that we, as Americans, have the right to perform. Do your part and take pride in knowing that you have played a role in the American justice system.

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