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Hernando judge levies $100 fines on residents who failed to show up for jury duty

In August, Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. lectured a courtroom full of no-show jurors in Hernando County about their patriotic duty. On Monday, he fined them.
In August, Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. lectured a courtroom full of no-show jurors in Hernando County about their patriotic duty. On Monday, he fined them.
Published Nov. 4, 2014

BROOKSVILLE — In August, Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. lectured a courtroom full of no-show jurors in Hernando County about their patriotic duty.

"Act like an American," he told them.

On Monday, Merritt said, it was time for more serious measures to address the chronic problem of residents not appearing for jury duty.

"I've been there, and done that," he said of his previous lecture, "and it did not have the desired effect."

He could start charging people with criminal contempt of court, he told the potential jurors, but first he would try fines.

And after listening to 34 Hernando residents explain why they had not appeared for jury duty on Sept. 10, he levied fines on 14 of them — most for $100.

Two trials had been scheduled for that day, said Amy Stephens, the county's juror coordinator.

A pool of 95 potential jurors had been called. Only 28 appeared, so few that it forced the postponement of a trial for a charge of aggravated battery.

Merritt, who has practiced law in Hernando for 24 years, said Monday that it was the first time in his memory that a trial had been delayed because a lack of jurors.

The Hernando County Clerk of Court's Office had later determined that some of the potential jurors who failed to appear had legitimate excuses. Others could not be found to deliver a summons for Monday's proceedings.

That left the 34 no-show jurors who had to answer to Merritt.

He waived the fine for most of those with health problems, especially if they had tried to inform the court of their problems before Sept. 10. He was also lenient toward those who said they had never received the original jury summons.

He was less forgiving of potential jurors such as Nicholas Albanese Jr., who said he had called once to see if he was needed for jury duty at the beginning of the week, but failed to follow up later.

"It slipped through my fingers," he told Merritt.

The judge fined him $100.

He also fined Charles Horner Jr., 31, a tile setter who was able to show he had a doctor's appointment the day of jury duty, but acknowledged he hadn't told the clerk's office about it beforehand.

"I understand the problem," Horner said afterward. But he thought he had a solid reason for not appearing.

"I guess I somewhat object."

But nobody who can serve should object to doing so, said Vito Masotti, 43, of Spring Hill, who was summoned for jury duty on Monday — and showed up.

"It's our responsibility," Masotti said. "Everybody has to do their time."

Contact Dan DeWitt at dewitt@tampabay.com or (352) 754-6116.