Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The judge who had enough

The judge who had enough probably would not want you to know this. What judge would?

But here's a truth about jury duty: If you get a piece of paper in the mail telling you to report to state court and you do not show up, the grim consequences will be:

Nothing, probably.

Police will not likely arrest you. The government won't take your home. Your snub of the system will not plummet your credit rating or get your car booted.

How can this be? Hillsborough and Pinellas can each send out something like 1,500 courthouse invites a week. Using certified or registered mail to show people got them would cost big bucks. So how could authorities prove a summons even got to you?

So, yep, there is generally no penalty for refusing your duty as an American to be a critical element in the justice system, except for that part about how it can't function without you. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

Until the judge who had enough.

On a busy Monday morning, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder spent hours scraping up a mere 22 potential jurors for his pending criminal trials. Turns out that of 1,523 citizens summoned that day, 387 hadn't shown — about 25 percent, a typical rate. In Pinellas, it's 14 percent. (More retirees? More civic responsibility?)

So the judge had enough and ordered no-shows to his courtroom Nov. 4 to explain themselves. By law, not reporting for jury duty without "sufficient excuse" can get you a $100 fine and a contempt charge.

Can you blame the judge for banging his gavel to get their attention?

Some probably didn't come for legitimate reasons, like they moved. But a lot of us just don't want to. We work, we're busy, it's a pain and a disruption. It's like paying taxes — who's happy about that? — except we've come to enjoy things like paved roads and police protection. And a jury of our peers.

The system does try to accommodate. You can be excused at age 70, or if you're taking care of someone who can't care for themselves. If the date is inconvenient, you can ask to reschedule. You can write in the reason you don't want to serve — "can't afford to miss work" — to be reviewed by a judge, many of them pretty reasonable. And getting picked for a Casey Anthony-type mess is about as likely as getting struck by lightning, only less fun.

But without us to sit in the jury box, how's justice supposed to work?

Because I spend time in courthouses, people ask me how to get out of jury duty. I am not generally given to patriotic pronouncements, but I find myself talking about an imperfect court system that's also the best anyone's come up with, and how juries I've seen need more of the very people who duck them. I harp on "duty." Come to think of it, people don't ask me twice.

Once Holder got a jury and a verdict — not guilty — he thanked them, talked about their "awesome authority and responsibility" and said, "I'm going to go home and sleep very well tonight because you did your job." I bet in November, rather than fining those no-shows, he'd rather they just did theirs.

Last true story: After the news of the judge who had enough, an 85-year-old man exempted from jury service at age 70 at his own request called the Hillsborough office. Put me back on, he said, wanting to serve.

The judge who had enough 10/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 8:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Conor Oberst, Johnnyswim concerts moved out of State Theatre over construction issues

    Blogs

    Two more concerts -- including one this weekend -- have been moved out of the State Theatre in St. Petersburg as the venue continues to experience scaled-down crowd capacity following recent construction.

    Johnnyswim
  2. McCain condemns 'half-baked, spurious nationalism' in clear shot at Trump (w/video)

    National

    PHILADELPHIA — An emotional Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., launched a thinly veiled critique of President Donald Trump's global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn "people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems."

  3. Tampa could pay $200,000 to family of man crushed by city front-end loader

    Local Government

    TAMPA — City Hall could pay $200,000 to the family of a dump truck driver crushed last December by a front-end loader operated by a city employee.

    This aerial image from 10News WTSP shows the scene at a city of Tampa loading station where dump truck driver Pablo R. Femenias was crushed by a front end loader driven by a city employee on Dec. 28, 2016.
  4. How fast is too fast to raise the minimum wage? St. Pete might be about to find out

    Local Government

    Say this about St. Petersburg's City Council members:

    Their hearts are in the right place.

    It's their math that's askew.

  5. Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. We talked to him ahead of time. Check out what he had to say. [Patrick Eccelsine/FOX]