By Janet Jacobs Corsicana Daily Sun
Corsicana — A study conducted by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse recently reported that Texas counties are having problems with low jury response rates, even though the pay for juries has increased.
Juries are appreciated in Navarro County, but unlike a few years ago, jury responses are up locally, to the point where courtrooms are packed and overflowing.
“I wish I could tell you what’s leading to it, but we’re having enough people come in that we’re running out of room, which I’d rather have that problem than the other way,” said District Judge James Lagomarsino. “Really, at this point, I don’t think we could squeeze any more people in.”
One explanation is a different system for updating the jury pool database. Using a commercial software service called “LexisNexis” the county clerk’s office is able to better cross-reference addresses so they aren’t sending out letters to people who have moved, said District Clerk Josh Tackett.
“It takes a lot of time, but it saves the county a lot of money in postage and we make sure we get enough people on the jury so we don’t waste the time of the prosecutors, the lawyers, the judges, and the people who show up and then get dismissed because of a lack of jurors,” he said.
To get a jury for a trial, the county sends out 350 summonses, and will get about 100 to 120 people show up, Tackett said. That’s a response of about one-third. That’s an improvement over the old system, where the county sent out 300 summonses and would get 60 or 80 people appear, a response rate of about 20 to 26 percent, Tackett said.
The county still gets plenty of returns, or jury summonses that don’t arrive at the correct addresses, and no-shows, or people who just don’t bother to appear at jury duty, but more people are taking the duty seriously, Lagomarsino said.
“I know when I’m presiding I try to make it as comfortable as possible,” he said. “We all have routines, and I know when my routine gets thrown out it’s no fun, but I try to treat it like a job.”
According to the study, the lowest jury response rates were seen in Montgomery County, with only 14 percent, and Harris County, with 26 percent. Harris County had higher participation rates from people in higher-income zip codes. Cameron County’s response rates were highest among the surveyed counties, at 73 percent.
Modern methods didn’t necessarily help, either. Hidalgo County instituted an on-line jury summons system and saw a lower response rate than in 2010.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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