Judge Weeks issues arrest warrants for jury no-shows

Attendance rate is now at 70 percent

Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A civics lesson was waiting for seven people summoned to appear Tuesday afternoon before Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks.

The judge issued arrest warrants for two who failed to show up to explain why they shouldn't be held in contempt for missing their calls for jury service. The warrants will require them to post $1,000 bail.

"I don't want to get into the punishment business," Weeks told the seven who did show up for the hearing. But not long ago "one nice lady spent time in jail" for not answering her call to be a prospective juror, he explained.

Jury service is that important, Weeks said. Alaska jurors come from the pool of people who receive an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, and jury duty is the only thing the Legislature requires of people for their dividend.

Since August 2004, when Weeks signed orders for 83 people to appear in court after missing jury service, Juneau judges have been holding more frequent hearings for people who don't turn up for their jury calls.

At that time, Area Court Administrator Neil Nesheim said only 60 percent of people called for jury service since the 1998-99 fiscal year had shown up.

The attendance rate has risen to 70 percent in October and November, still leaving an absence rate of about 30 percent, according to Juneau court records.

Alaska State Troopers served summons to nine people to attend Tuesday's hearing. Each had already missed one hearing, after they were summoned by mail.

Most at Tuesday's hearing offered to be available for another month.

Timothy Lott didn't immediately come up with a month. He told Weeks he runs a 15-member construction crew and serving on a jury would cost them.

"I have doctors come in who say they have patients," Weeks answered. "I have lawyers come in. They've got to serve."

Lott accepted the judge's suggestion that he be on call the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January.

In Juneau, people can be selected for jury service for a month at a time. They are assigned to pools and are required to check daily to see if their pools are required to come in.

Not everyone who shows up as a prospective juror is seated on a jury, but Weeks told the group Tuesday it's a matter fairness to draw juries from as broad a cross section of the community as possible.

If they were involved in a dispute in court, it's what they would want, he said. It's "the way the system works in this country," having people from the community decide if people are guilty.

"In some countries, decisions are made by men in blue uniforms or black robes," Weeks said. "Sometimes it's bureaucrats sitting behind a desk."

If they don't show up as summoned for jury service, though, they may have to deal with people in blue uniforms, he said. "You can expect a trooper to come knocking at your door."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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