Local judges having trouble filling jury pools

It is not uncommon for registered voters and licensed drivers to get a summons in the mail requesting their presence at the local courthouse to sit for jury duty, however, it is becoming less and less common for St. Charles Parish residents to actually show up.

The jury pools are so low that in one case police had to be sent to the homes of jurors with subpoenas ordering them to show up in court.

Judge Michele Morel said she ordered 150 jurors to serve for jury duty one day and only 58 showed up. On the next day, even though she subpoenaed 100 residents for jury duty only 23 came to serve.

“That’s the problem we are having. They are ignoring them,” Morel said. “We can issue warrants for people who aren’t showing up, but we don’t. They are regular people that haven’t done anything except not show up.”

Capt. Pat Yoes, spokesman for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said it is up to the discretion of judges what they do if a juror does not show up for jury duty.

“The potential is whatever the judge says. The court rules and the court will determine what the penalty is for not complying,” he said.

That could possibly mean a contempt of court charge and a warrant issued for no show jurors or even forcing someone at random to go to jury duty.

Morel said there are laws that allow judges to force residents into serving on a jury in an emergency, but the judges have never had to that.

“We could actually do immediate subpoenas and go to the Walmart parking lot and pick up people, but we don’t want to do that. Some other random guy gets a subpoena and doesn’t show up do we pick up a random guy?” Morel said. “That’s not fair.”

Judge Lauren Lemmon said forcing the Sheriff’s Office to serve subpoenas takes them away from other more important law enforcement duties.

“It really costs the Sheriff’s Office to go out and get these people especially when they have better things to do,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t want to waste their resources. These people aren’t criminals. These people haven’t committed crimes.”

However, Lemmon said jury duty is an important part of a democratic society and something everyone should be accountable for.

“What if this was you car wreck? What if this was your child that is being wrongfully held in jail for a crime they didn’t commit? They are entitled to get a trial,” she said.

Once a month, Lemmon’s court sets jury pools for eight trials, but she said by the time jury selection has come about many of the cases have been settled.

“Probably 98 percent of the time the jury trials for which you get subpoenaed are probably not even going to go forward,” Lemmon said. “In other words, if your jury trial starts Tuesday and you’ve got a subpoena, call the night before or even the week before to find out if you have to come.”

Morel encourages those who receive jury summons to attend the hearing or at the very least notify the court on why you cannot make it.

“Please do not ignore them. Everyone has the right to have a jury of their peers,” she said. “If people have a legitimate reason for not coming in advance please contact us and we’ll look at to your excuse. Just not showing up is a problem.”

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