NEW PORT RICHEY — Four times Danielle Freeman was summoned to jury duty, and four times she failed to show up.
The 22-year-old Hudson woman was just one of the nearly 26,000 Pasco residents a year who ignore the slip that arrives in the mail from the courthouse, according to the clerk's office, even though attendance is not optional.
Judges have a habit of profusely thanking those who do show up, saying the justice system couldn't work without them.
In his speech from the bench, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews tells pools of potential jurors that many people don't come "and, unfortunately, we will have to deal with those people."
On Friday, he dealt with Freeman.
"You're going to have to explain yourself this morning," he told Freeman, who came to court on an order to show cause, a rarely used tool in making repeatedly delinquent potential jurors explain their absence.
According to the clerk's office, Freeman has been called for jury duty four times since late 2008. Once, she sent a letter asking for a deferment. The other times, she got extensions or postponements or just didn't show up.
"Why is it," Andrews asked her, "that on various occasions you were summoned for jury duty you did not join us?"
Freeman, who was facing a charge of criminal contempt of court and therefore had the right to remain silent, spoke up nonetheless.
"I have children within a year apart, and I was moving around. I know it's not an excuse," she said.
Financial trouble was forcing her from home to home, she said, and she wasn't always on top of where her mail was being sent.
And, though she didn't mention it in court, Freeman was having legal troubles of her own. She and her boyfriend were arrested in July on charges of fraudulent use of a credit card, accused of using cards they had found in a lost wallet. Their arrest appeared in the Times as the first to result from the Pasco Sheriff's Office's "Caught on Camera" web page, featuring security camera images of wanted suspects. That case is pending.
She was also arrested twice in 2009 on domestic battery charges that were later dropped.
But she hasn't been convicted of a felony, so the jury summonses kept coming. The one time she did respond, she said, she was pregnant and close to her due date.
"Are you telling me that only once did you know we were trying to contact you?" Andrews asked.
Yes, she said.
Once? he asked again.
Twice, was her new answer.
Freeman pleaded no contest to the contempt charge, a misdemeanor.
Andrews could have sentenced her to up to a year in the county jail and fined her $1,000. Instead, he gave her no jail time, withheld a formal adjudication of guilt and gave her a standard $253 fine, plus another $250 for the public defender who stood next to her in court.
He also made her listen to a version of the speech she would have heard had she shown up when called.
"Ms. Freeman, the price that we pay for living in a free country and this democracy is to participate," Andrews said. "We don't ask much. We just ask you to show up for jury duty from time to time."
He reminded her of her fellow citizens who pay a much higher price serving in the military.
"Knowing the sacrifice that people make on a daily basis — their very lives — so that you and I can live in a free country, I don't think that's too much."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.