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Those who shirk jury duty could be fined

The county's judiciary has had it with residents failing to answer the call to jury duty.

A jury summons is essentially a court order, a decree from a judge ordering a resident to report to the Citrus County Courthouse for jury duty. If a resident cannot fulfill that obligation, the clerk of the Circuit Court must be notified.

It is a court order that many people in the county have ignored without consequence.

Until now.

If a resident fails to answer a jury summons, another court order will be issued ordering that person to appear before a judge to explain why the summons was ignored.

If the resident's excuse isn't good enough, a fine could be imposed.

Some excuses are spelled out in the jury notice. They relate to expectant mothers, those 70 or older, and medical reasons, among others. Some residents are disqualified from jury duty, such as those facing prosecution or felons whose civil rights have not been restored. The judges are willing to hear other excuses.

"We live in the United States of America, so we have a lot of freedoms," Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas said Tuesday. "But with those freedoms come responsibilities, and serving on a jury is one of those responsibilities."

Trials are held in the Citrus County Courthouse at certain times each month. Felony criminal court holds two trial weeks a month. Civil circuit court holds trial week once a month, as does misdemeanor circuit and civil court.

Twice a month, the clerk of the Circuit Court sends out jury summonses, usually 100 to 200, depending on the caseload, to registered Citrus County voters. On March 31, 300 jury summonses will be mailed.

Since Nov. 12, 1,350 jury summonses have been sent.

Of those, 756 residents _ 56 percent _ were released from jury duty with valid excuses. Ten percent _ 139 residents _ ignored the orders. The rest served on juries or were dismissed.

Thomas said residents who choose to ignore a summons have a major impact on Citrus County's judicial system.

For example, on March 10 a seven-member jury was selected for a felony assault case to be tried on March 14 in front of Thomas.

Those jurors were then sent back into the jury pool, and three of them were chosen for a misdemeanor DUI trial in front of County Judge Mark Yerman.

When the March 14 felony trial rolled around, those three jurors found themselves hearing a case handled by the same defense attorney in the earlier DUI case, Public Defender Jim Cummins.

A mistrial was declared.

Thomas said seven jurors, an entire jury panel, chose to ignore their summons for that trial week.

Had they answered, they would have expanded the jury pool and made it less likely that jurors would have been called to serve on two cases in one week.

"What I try to tell people is that the more who show up for the jury pool, then the better the pool is for defense and prosecuting attorneys to choose from," Thomas said.

Yerman said that jury duty is one of the few civic duties citizens are asked to perform and should not be taken lightly.

"There are some people that a call to jury duty is the only time they get to serve their country," Yerman said. "If they aren't in the military, then the least they can do is show up and participate in the process. They usually end up learning something. I've never had someone who "hated' jury duty.

"It's a relatively easy thing to do."