For far too many Maricopa County residents, instead of a serious document demanding their participation in one of the most serious responsibilities of citizenship, a jury summons represents little more than junk mail
Those who have habitually ignored the summons, or who have sent in the reply form but failed to show up in court for possible selection to a jury will now be subject to toughened laws, effective Oct. 1, calling for up to a $500 fine. As the Tribune’s Gary Grado reported Tuesday, those eligible for jury duty who ignore three jury summonses in a row will receive a fourth — delivered by a sheriff’s deputy — ordering you to show up in court and explain why a judge should not find you in contempt. The new rules come by order of county Superior Court Presiding Judge Colin Campbell.
While Campbell is to be commended for this act, we wonder why it took so long for the court system to realize what a lack of respect for the judiciary has resulted over several years of allowing scofflaws to ignore jury service. More than 30,000 county residents ignored their summonses in fiscal 2002.
The right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury is guaranteed by nothing less than the Bill of Rights itself. A jury must by law be made up of a defendant’s peers, who may or may not be able to be empaneled from only a list of volunteers willing to make the time to serve.
And yet most of us who try to get out of jury duty do so by invoking excuses that the vagueness of the law has in too many cases allowed.
In the late 1980s, then-Gov. Rose Mofford was issued a summons to jury duty from which she could have easily have been excused. Instead, she arrived at the jury assembly room in Phoenix with her gubernatorial paperwork and her schedule book.
Reports of Mofford’s day in court told of other prospective jurors being inspired by her appearance, even over the awkward objections of court personnel who ultimately convinced her to accept being excused.
If the governor could find jury duty to be an obligation so important that even her obligations to this state could be temporarily subservient, then little room is left for the rest of us to try to escape such constitutional duties ourselves.
While it is disappointing to think that only the threat of a $500 fine will influence many people to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens of a nation that has blessed them so much, at least the intent of the authors of the Bill of Rights will have been more fully realized thereby.