Bloomberg Law reports that while some state courts have reopened their courtrooms to live trials, most people called for jury duty are not showing up. In California Superior Court in San Diego, only 5% of those receiving a jury summons actually came to court on their appointed day.
It’s not that courthouses are inherently dangerous, or likely super-spreader locations. Indeed, courts nationwide have made every effort to insure juror safety, and — as importantly — to make jurors feel safe. Massachusetts, for example, has temporarily reduced the jury size from twelve to six, and has installed so much plexiglass in courthouses that, according to Chief Justice of the Trial Courts Paula Carey, some jurors felt safer in the courthouse than at the grocery store.
Still, this is going to be a slow climb back to normalcy. The length of the pandemic has conditioned our brains to think differently about being in enclosed areas with others, and even after we hit herd immunity, it will be a while before we can loosen up again. To keep the docket moving, courts should think about hybrid models, using both live and video components, even after the pandemic subsides.
My latest contribution to the New England Faculty Blog explains why Twitter pundits could use a good dose of jury duty. Check it out!
A computer glitch in the D.C. Superior Court prevented jury summonses from being printed and delivered in late December, leaving court officials scrambling for jurors in late January. Ultimately, the court was able to bring in enough jurors on a few days’ notice to be able to hold the scheduled jury trials.
Jury trials are a critical part of American democracy, and in many instances a constitutional right. But jury service is also an imposition on the lives of our citizens. Courts need to make it as easy as possible for people to perform their civic obligations, and monitoring whether jury notices go out on time seems like a simple place to start.
The Oregonian has an interesting article on the efforts of state and federal courts to crack down on citizens not appearing for jury duty. The story nicely describes the range of tactics in play, from jury coordinators and James Taylor concert videos to being individually summoned and grilled by an irritated judge.
Jury trials are central to the American justice system, and citizens who serve on a jury almost always walk away with a better appreciation for the court system and their own civic responsibilities.