Saturday, January 5, 2013

Suggestions for Jury Duty Reform

I was called in for jury duty in December. I went in to the courthouse, but wasn't called. Not much of a surprise, because apparently the courts aren't all that busy in December.

I received the notice that I had to serve a couple of months before I was called. I had the option to postpone or decline, but only for very good reason. I am currently working for a large law firm, and they give you 10 days off if you are called to serve on a jury. It wasn't a hardship for me or my coworkers. But for many people, I'm sure it is.

So my idea is this: let citizens who are called for jury duty request or suggest particular times of the year when they will be called to serve. Many people have seasonal jobs. Wedding planners, for example, are busy in the spring and summer, but not the fall and winter. Accountants and tax preparers are busy until April 15. Athletes and coaches on sports team are busy during the season, but not the offseason. Politicians and their campaign staff are busy during campaign season, but not afterwards.

Many people also have specific commitments that they know about well in advance. Weddings, for example, are generally planned months in advance. Students and professors who plan to spend a semester or more off-campus - for example, studying abroad, or teaching at another college - usually know about that well ahead of time. People who work in the entertainment industry travel constantly - musicians go on tour, films and TV shows shoot on location.

It would work like this: the local court administrator sends out mail in the fall to prospective jurors for the next year. Those jurors can specify which months of the year they would prefer to serve, and which months they would prefer not to serve. They might select three months that they would like to serve, three months that they would not, or cannot serve, and six months that they are neutral about. Or they might list the months in order of their preference, from 1 to 12. The sooner they get their response in, the more likely they will be to receive their preference, so people with tight schedules have a strong incentive to get their requests in early. Notifications would then be sent out in December, letting people know when they will be called to serve on jury duty. This would greatly reduce stress on all parties involved.

Then, if something comes up over the course of the year, and someone will not be able to serve jury duty, they will, hopefully, be able to give advance notice. If someone suddenly has to move, or go out of town for an extended basis, they can inform the court as soon as they know, and reschedule appropriately.

I served on a jury once, and I enjoyed it (the judge declared a mistrial, so we didn't reach a verdict), but I've heard stories from friends for whom serving on a jury was a significant hassle. This proposal would, hopefully, go a long way towards making jury duty much more manageable for many more Americans.

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