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December 10, 2013

Jury duty no-shows hit with fines

EBENSBURG — Cambria County residents summoned for jury duty who are not excused and do not show up at the courthouse on the date of the call can plan on shelling out some money.

Judges are following through with a crackdown on noncompliant potential jurors announced earlier this year.

As of Tuesday, six people have been hit in the pocketbook, said Cambria County court administrator William Valko.

Along with the half-dozen fined up to $100, 11 were ordered to return at a later date to go through the jury selection process as part of a number of contempt of court hearings held over the past few weeks before a judge.

The next jury selection is set for Dec. 17, when panels will be selected to hear asbestos cases and Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany and the others are ready to go after the no- shows.

Failure to report for jury duty has been a problem in recent years, and it grew after the courts expanded the sources for the names to include state driver’s license listings, state Department of Revenue records and state Department of Welfare data.

The judges decided to crack down on the jury law in February, when 43 of the 215 people summoned for duty failed to appear.

The threats worked for a while, but in October when court personnel attempted to pick a jury for a child sex abuse case, the number of people responding to the summons was so low a second call had to go out and the process extended into the next day.

Creany said while he and the other judges understand the inconvenience jury duty can cause, it is part of the guarantee that defendants be judged by their peers.

Meanwhile, steps are being taken to make the summons clear, Creany said.

“We’ll make it clear that it’s not an optional thing, that they must appear,” he said prior to a judges’ meeting to iron out details of the changes.

Just responding to the summons saying that you will not or cannot appear is not adequate.

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

Anyone coming in with what he termed a “fair excuse” will be put on a different panel, but not released from duty.

The new forms to be used beginning in 2014 will require not only a telephone number, but an email address as well if available, Creany said.

Attempts to reduce some of the frustration jurors may experience through long waits and being dismissed just prior to trial because a plea bargain or settlement was reached are also being made, Creany said.

He cited the efforts of Judge David Tulowitzki, his staff and other court personnel who came to the courthouse Saturday for a plea agreement involving Shahliek Maxwell Greene.

Greene was charged in the Feb. 6 murder of Joshua Scott Price in Moxham.

Tulowitzki said Tuesday he made it known at a pretrial hearing Friday that he would not look favorably on a plea deal Monday after the jury appeared and the trial was set to begin.

A call to Tulowitzki from defense attorney David Beyer Friday night brought the judge to the courthouse Saturday.

After the deal was approved, Tulowitzki’s staff and others called the 60 or 70 jurors who expected to show up for Monday’s selection.

All but one person was reached, Tulowitzki said.

“It was a combination of jurors not sitting around and the weather forecast,” he said.

The Saturday court saved the county a couple thousand dollars, Creany said.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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