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New courthouse changing boundaries for jurors
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part look at jury duty. Part 2 will run Monday.
Jury duty. For some it is as expected as death and taxes, while for others, they go through life having never been called.
Beginning in late 2013, jury duty and the odds of being called will change for residents in the south county as the new nine-courtroom South County Justice Center opens for business.
The $90 million new courthouse will possibly mean more trials in which jurors will be needed, and it will also likely mean longer trials since felony trials will be done here.
However, there is a silver lining to the new courthouse: Residents in the south county will no longer be called to serve in Visalia.
“Nobody from Porterville will be called to Visalia,” declared local Superior Court Judge Glade Roper. He explained the dividing lines have already been drawn and basically, the line goes along Avenue 184, then along Road 152 north to Avenue 232, then Highway 65 to Avenue 256.
That boundary will go into effect when Roper and other court staff move into the new courthouse in October of 2013. The construction project is on schedule.
What the new courthouse means to perspective jurors is possibly a need for more jurors and longer duties, but Roper did not feel it will be much different from the juror needs today.
Where the Porterville Courthouse today handles only misdemeanor trials that last a day or two, the new courthouse will be very similar to the courthouse in Visalia, where everything from misdemeanors to murder trials are held. Also, civil cases will be heard in the new courthouse.
“Average felony trial is four days,” said Roper. “Civil trials can go for several weeks,” he added.
Time to Serve
Nobody really likes jury duty, but even Roper is not exempt. He recently served as a juror and his thoughts on that experience will be published in Monday’s Recorder.
“I was thrilled when they called me to serve. I think people should serve as jurors. I think it’s our duty as citizens,” he said.
In response to a question The Recorder posted on its Facebook page, many responders said serving on a jury was their duty. Many had been called, but never served.
Heather Hearn replied, “I get jury duty every year. I don’t mind the actual jury duty, but I dislike the drive to Visalia (and trying to park).”
Dago Garcia said he was called for jury duty late last week.
“I considered being called an honor and will do my best to actually serve. This is the fourth time I got summoned and I have never made it past the first round. So disappointing. I think that being called for jury duty is a civic duty that all citizens must perform. We have a judicial system that while not perfect it is the best in the world yet we as a society take it for granted. I have many reasons why I can’t go, but I chose to make this duty a priority and will gladly serve if I am called be a jury member.”
Amy Williams, court service manager for the Tulare County Courts, said jurors are to be paid $15 a day and receive 35-cents a mile for their trip, one way only.
“It’s no problem to fill a jury because we send out 150 notices to fill just one courtroom,” she said of notices sent out for three-room Porterville courthouse. The summons are sent out three weeks in advance and “by the time people call to re-schedule, or are excused for numerous reasons such as non-citizen, felony, etc, the number usually comes down to around 100.”
“About 60 percent of those we send notices out to show,” she added.
“After that it takes a couple of nasty failure to appear letters to get the remaining 40 to 50 percent to fulfill their obligation. Some stay in the failure to appear status,” Williams added.
Those who do not respond are then ordered to show cause and go before a judge. They could face a $50 fine.
“We send out a letter asking them to explain why they didn’t show. I think that clears up 80 percent of the problem,” she said.
Williams added the most common excuse to get out of jury duty: They’ll be out of town.
Jurors’ names are selected from two sources: Voter registration rolls and driver’s license rolls.
Most trials have 12 jurors and one or two alternates. For longer trials, there could be a need for as many as six alternates. The alternates are required to be in court just as if they were impaneled, but would not take part in deliberations once testimony ends.
Roper said right now the Porterville Court is a great place to serve because it is local and the time required of jurors is a day to a day and a half. In most cases, trials are scheduled to begin on Thursdays and end before the weekend. Everyone called to the Porterville Court to serve is from the south county.
Carol Ledbetter said it is an honor to serve.
“I usually get excused from jury duty when I call; but I served on a jury once and found it very interesting. I feel like it is an honor to be part of a jury and a responsibility of every citizen. It may not be a perfect system, but it is much better than the vast number of countries have out there. It bothers me when people groan and complain about getting a jury summons and they ‘try and get out of it.’ It should be looked at differently than it is — as a privilege and part of our freedoms living in this great country of ours.”