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Pasco judge takes no excuses from jury duty scofflaws

Jason Anthony, left, pleads his case for missing jury duty in front of Circuit Judge Michael Andrews on Tuesday.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Jason Anthony, left, pleads his case for missing jury duty in front of Circuit Judge Michael Andrews on Tuesday.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Jason Anthony was trying to plead his case. It wasn't going well.

Anthony was one of 103 people called to Circuit Judge Michael Andrews' courtroom on Tuesday to explain why they had not shown up for jury duty. They had all been summoned at least twice this year and failed to turn up for service.

Standing at a lectern in front of the judge, Anthony said he never got the jury summons but he couldn't serve jury duty anyway. He said he cares for two disabled veterans, his father in Pasco and another relative who lives in Sarasota, splitting his time in each place.

"Who is watching them now?" Andrews asked.

"My grandmother," Anthony said. "But she is, like, 85."

Andrews pointed out Anthony couldn't be in both places at once. Either the relatives were somewhat self-reliant or someone else cared for them when Anthony was with the other.

Andrews rescheduled Anthony for jury duty for April 1.

"Someone can be taking care of them when you are serving jury duty," Andrews said.

As Anthony walked out he was joined by an older man, who cussed Andrews as they walked out. Fortunately for him, it was not within earshot of the bailiff or Andrews.

This is the second time Andrews has called flagrant jury duty violators to court. His courtroom on the second floor of the West Pasco Judicial Center was packed. Before the proceedings began, the men and women were quiet, nervous. One by one, they were called to the front to answer why they never showed up for their duty. Nearly all said they never got the summons. One woman was so apologetic she said she would not only show up for her next date, but she would bring cookies.

For those who said they got the notices but couldn't come because of medical reasons, Andrews explained that the court system would always work with people to either reschedule, make them comfortable during jury duty or excuse them with a doctor's note.

"If you get sick you have to let us know," Andrews said to Edward Cook. "You can't just not appear."

Andrews explained to them that serving on a jury is part of the responsibility of being an American, something citizens can do to participate and give back for those who have fought and died for freedom.

"Our purpose here today is to find out why you failed to perform this duty of citizenship and to give you another chance," Andrews told the courtroom.

On average, 2,676 Pasco residents are called for jury duty each month. Most don't show. Only a third of all potential jurors appear for duty, according to Kimberly J. Collins, director of criminal courts in Pasco. That means 67 percent are either excused, deferred or don't come.

Jurors in Pasco are eligible if they are United State citizens, county residents, older than 18, mentally competent and have no felony convictions — unless the person has had his or her rights restored, Collins said. Jurors who are not compensated by their employers get paid $15 a day for the first three days of duty and $30 a day after that.

Of the 32,114 jurors summoned from January through November of this year, only 10,598 came to court. There were 15,142 people who had approved excuses or deferments.

But 6,374 offered no excuse.

A potential juror who doesn't show up — and doesn't get an excuse or deferment — is automatically summoned for another date in three months.

According to Florida Statute, any person called for jury duty who does not show up — and who doesn't have a good excuse — could pay a fine of up to $100.

"In addition," the statute reads, "such failure may be considered a contempt of court."

Citizens who do show up for jury duty are profusely thanked for their service and welcomed every Monday by court staff and officials, including Andrews.

Andrews is known as a judge not to be trifled with. He often pushes trials to continue well into the night, when other courtrooms might break at 5 p.m., because jurors want to return to their lives and the court process needs to move along. He does not suffer excuses, from attorneys, defendants or potential jurors.

"You obviously got the notice for today, but you didn't get any of the other notices?" Andrews asked Nancy Johnson, who missed three summons for duty.

She said she was sick and not checking the mail. She said she lives with other adults and they could have thrown them out, mistaking them for junk mail.

"Even though it's a big old notice that says the word 'JUROR' on it?" Andrews asked.

He rescheduled her for March.

Andrews gave warnings to those who showed up Tuesday and rescheduled them for jury duty. But of the 103 people called to court, 35 did not show. Those people are not getting warnings, he said. They will be sent notices to appear in court, where proceedings for them to be held in contempt of court will likely begin. Andrews said the conviction carries a maximum sentence of five months and 29 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

Pasco judge takes no excuses from jury duty scofflaws 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 8:10pm]
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