When summonses ignored, court may take unusual steps
A low turnout of summoned potential jurors over the past few months has Del Norte court officials seeking alternative methods to fill the jury box.
Last week, 46 people appeared at the courthouse for the jury pool out of 250 who were mailed summonses, said Court Executive Officer Sandra Linderman.
In recent weeks, it has been typical for about 150 people who have been ordered to appear for jury duty to just not show up or to notify the court they can’t make it, Linderman said.
“Every court I talk to has similar problems,” said Linderman.
Del Norte Superior Court Judge William Follett has occasionally responded to the shortage of potential jurors by directing a court bailiff to head to the post office and hand-deliver summonses to unsuspecting citizens, ordering them to appear in court that same day.
He said he’s been forced to do it four times over the past few months, the first times in his 13 years serving on the bench.
“It’s a very undesirable situation to pull people off of the street,” said Follett.
Dr. Warren Rehwaldt was checking his mail during his lunch break in January when he was handed a summons to appear in court 45 minutes later for jury duty.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Rehwaldt, who had to cancel about a dozen appointments at the local Open Door Community Health Center.
He showed up and wasn’t selected.
“Judge Follett was really apologetic,” said Rehwaldt. “I understand the situation is really hard for the court if they can’t find enough jurors.”
Still, he said he has avoided going to his mailbox on Mondays around noon.
“People who don’t fulfill their civic duty and others have to cover for them ... that’s not OK,” said Linderman.
The courts are considering measures to hold people accountable for not heeding a mailed jury summons, if the poor attendance continues.
Anyone who doesn’t appear could be called to show reasonable cause for their absence or face possible fines or jail time.