Jury duty a pain, but it's necessary

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

Jury duty.

It's a civic duty. It's the law. It's the responsibility of every citizen. It also can be a royal pain.

Don't get us wrong, we're all for juries - it's one of the centerpieces of our legal system. Yes, there will always be problems with juries, as there are with any type of legal system. But we prefer it far more than being under the whims of some dictator who gets it in his mind one day to have some heads roll. Literally.

Juneau residents seem to be forgetting, however, that for our legal system to work, there needs to be a jury pool. Our city is getting a reputation for not showing up, with only 35 to 40 percent of those called actually appearing.

As Juneau District Court Judge Peter Froehlich pointed out earlier this week, truant jurors cause a lot of problems. Retired people, teachers and state employees routinely show up, but not others. That in turn denies defendants a fair cross-section pool of the community, and often times younger and minority jurors never show up. It's not fair to the citizens who do show up.

Froehlich, to his credit, has held three contempt of court hearings for people who failed to appear when called. Here's the math: don't show up and get fined $100. Show up and get paid $25 a day. Jury duty may be an inconvenience, but it's cheaper than the consequences. Plus, as many citizens have found out, you just might actually learn something. And let's face it, often times you'll be deciding the fate of someone else. That's not something to take lightly.

We'd also like to point out Juneau's system for calling jurors is a lot better than other places. Many cities and towns require potential jurors to show up at the courthouse regardless of whether a trial is scheduled or not. Many times citizens just sit around all day and then get told to go home. At least here you can call in and find out whether you need to even show up.

Of course Froehlich has a suggestion for those who don't want to mess with jury duty. Simply don't apply for a Permanent Fund dividend. That's where they get names for jurors. So, if you really don't want to serve, just forget that October check.

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