The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 7, 2013

Jury duty no-shows targeted: Could face $100 fine

Kathy Mellott

EBENSBURG — Jury selection was held Thursday for a host of criminal cases in Cambria County court, and when 43 of the 215 county residents ordered to appear just didn’t show, the judges here said they’ve had enough.

Effective with the prospective jurors summoned to appear for the next round April 4, those without a preapproved dismissal who fail to show will be ordered to appear at a hearing.

If they are found in contempt of court, they will be fined $100, a new initiative that has received the support of all five county judges, President Judge Timothy Creany said late Thursday.

“My colleagues and I are pretty fair,” Creany said. “We want to be fair. We want people to understand they have this obligation and we’re prepared to fine them.”

Judge Norman Krumenacker was taken aback when jury selection for a murder trial last month should have brought in 128 potential jurors, but 31 people were no-shows. No excuses, no calls to the courthouse, he said.

Cambria County is one of the more lenient counties in the region when it comes to excusing people summoned for jury duty, court administrator William Valko said.

“We excuse many more than most counties,” Valko said.

While  jury duty no-shows are not new in Cambria County, Creany said it has become an increasing problem since the list of potential jurors was expanded recently.

Previously, the names were pulled from voter registration lists, but Creany, as president judge, expanded the potential pool to include state driver’s license listings, state Department of Revenue tax filing records and state Department of Public Welfare data.

But Creany believes jury duty is the responsibility of every U.S. citizen, and he compares it to serving in the military.  

Quoting a Supreme Court judge, Creany said asking to determine the guilt or innocence of another is one of the highest expressions of citizenship.

While jury duty may be an inconvenience, it is far better than asking a biased person to make a decision about a fellow citizen’s fate, he said.

The no-shows will be given an opportunity to provide an excuse why they failed to respond to the jury duty summons, but the judges are ready to act, Krumenacker said.

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

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