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April 4, 2013

Cambria proceeds with plan to levy fines on AWOL jurors

EBENSBURG — A warning six weeks ago to Cambria County residents who ignore summonses to appear for jury duty appears to have had an impact, but judges on Thursday said they are going after those who failed to respond.

“It went pretty good. They look like a nice panel,” Cambria County Judge Timothy Creany said following selection of juries for a number of criminal cases.

“I think people realize it is their duty.”

Of the 183 people summoned who did not seek to be excused, 28 failed to appear Thursday morning, Court Administrator William Valko said.

Court officials were buoyed by the response, especially in light of the figures from jury selection nearly two months ago when 43 of the 215 county residents who were called did not appear.

But despite the slight improvement, Creany said he will carry through on the warning he gave on Feb. 6.

Each of the 28 people who failed to show up Thursday could face a $100 fine.

Plans are to iron out the details in a judges’ meeting next week. The 28 no- shows will be summoned to the courthouse within the next month, he said.

The crackdown, which has received the support of all five of the county’s judges, will involve each of the 28 no-shows. They will be required to appear at a hearing and furnish reasons – with documentation – about why they stayed away from the courthouse on Thursday.

“We can’t issue a statement and not follow through,” Creany said.

Judge Norman Krumenacker, who is known to be tough when it comes to excuses, will monitor the first round of hearings.

“He’ll handle it. He’s tough,” Creany said.

Subsequent hearings, which Creany promises to continue, will be handed off to the other judges on a rotating basis.

Krumenacker said he will try to be fair, but has plans to let no one pass.

“We’ll give everybody the benefit of the doubt and see where we go from there,” Krumenacker said. “We had nearly 200 people who showed up today, and we’re going to want to know why the others did not.”

Cambria County is one of the more lenient counties in the region when it comes to excusing people summoned for jury duty. Those people with legitimate excuses usually can make arrangements before the day they are to appear, Valko said recently.

Jury duty no-shows are not a new problem for county court, Creany said. But the problem has increased over the past few years since the sources used to identify prospective jurors have been expanded.

Until a few years ago, the names were pulled from voter registration lists only. But Creany, when he took over 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.

Meanwhile, Creany said, he will continue to hold county residents to their duty to participate in the jury process.

“We’re going to do it every time. It’s about being fair to everyone, including the defendants who have a right to be judged by a panel of their peers,” he said.

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