MARYSVILLE – The dog ate my summons. I’ll be out of the country. Business is brisk and I’m the only one who can do the work. The boss can’t afford to lose me for a day or two.
No one likes getting that summons to report for jury duty. Clerks in the Marysville Municipal Court – which hears cases for Marysville, Lake Stevens and Arlington - have heard all the reasons for dodging jury duty , or worse, completely ignoring a summons by simply not responding when it comes in the mail.
It’s unfortunate, court officials say, because many people don’t know what they are missing.
“Surveys have found time and again that people strongly believe that jury duty should be fulfilled, even if inconvenient,” Municipal Judge Fred Gillings says. “Surveys also show that while many have low expectations going into the process, after the fact they appreciate the chance to participate.”
Court Administrator Suzanne Elsner says that’s reflected in the exit surveys the court has their own jurors complete, pulling from a random stack of questionnaires. “We get many ‘Thanks for the opportunity to serve’ comments, and others who say that jury duty was not what they were expecting.”
Jury duty is an important feature of civic participation in our democracy, a citizen’s chance to speak for the community, deliberate and make fair decisions in a judicial system that couldn’t function without it, Elsner says.
Not showing up and ignoring a summons can have real consequences for court operations, Elsner says.
The municipal court a couple months ago summoned 50 residents for a six-juror panel. Typically, court officials may excuse 10-15 of these residents for various valid reasons. The court had 14 show up for a six-member jury panel. The low number was too few to enable the city prosecutor and public defender to exercise their preemptive challenges each can use during jury selection to excuse jurors they believe would not be helpful to their side. As a result, the trial was continued.
This isn’t the first time in Marysville that an undersized jury pool has brought justice to a halt.
“If you get a summons, we’d appreciate it if you would show up,” she says. “Your service as a juror is very important to us; we will do all we can to make your time with us comfortable, with the least amount of disruption to your work or obligations at home.
The way the system works, jurors are summoned randomly two months prior to a trial date and are scheduled at the time of trial. Jurors serving in Marysville Municipal Court must be residents of Marysville or the cities of Arlington or Lake Stevens, both of which contract for court (and jail) services. The court sends a reminder four weeks prior to the trial date to those who have not yet responded.
Those who are eligible can be excused from jury duty if they have illnesses that would interfere with their ability to do a good job, would suffer unusual hardship if required to serve, or are unable to serve for other legitimate reasons.
Jury trials typically run one or two days, Elsner says. Courts in recent years have also tried to make the process more interactive for jurors in the cases they hear. For example, Marysville’s court now permits jurors to take notes.
Elsner mentions that in many instances, cases are settled before they wind up going to trial. Jurors are paid $10 a day plus mileage reimbursement.
The court’s two elected judges, Fred Gillings and Lorrie Towers, hear criminal cases including assault, domestic violence, driving under the influence, non-felony thefts and other various gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors and infractions.
For people who are curious to see the judicial process in action, Gillings reminds that hearings are open to the public and invites interested people and community groups to come and watch a trial.
“Jury trials are an important civic function at the courthouse,” the Judge says. “Without it, we couldn’t do the court’s business.”
For more information about jury duty, visit the Washington court jury duty website at https://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/resources/.