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Jury summons will become more fair

Greg Risling

Large chunks of time. Low pay. A task bestowed on an American citizen.

Jury duty. The mere mention of it can send cold shivers down the spine.

El Dorado County residents, more than 70,000 of them, can expect to be summoned for jury service in the near future. The county’s unified courts have streamlined its system and will use every available resource to increase the pool of jury candidates.

The department is attempting to cut repetition among people who serve several times while others are never called for jury duty. Before updating its computer software on Monday, the court’s index had approximately 22,000 names.

“The burden of service will be shared more broadly among all citizens rather than imposed on only a few hardy souls,” said Alexander Aikman, executive court officer for El Dorado County. “This and other changes will make jury service less difficult.”

According to Aikman, the two-year-old list comprised of Department of Motor Vehicles customers and voters from last November’s election was outdated, enabling new residents the luxury of never receiving a summons mailer. Add people who had either moved out of the county or had died and a select few were being called to serve sometimes two to three times a year.

To remedy the problem, the courts will use an updated DMV list. Once someone is selected for jury duty, that person will be excused from further obligation for at least a year. Candidates who show up but aren’t picked as a juror will be eligible for four more days during that year.

Some of the other features for potential jurors:

— The questionnaire has been eliminated. Residents will be required to appear in three to four weeks after receiving a summons.

— People can postpone service once. They will likely be asked to serve within a 90-day period.

— The call-in message machine will be updated regularly before 5 p.m. and needed jurors will be reached by a court employee.

— The county’s auditor will expedite jurors’ checks faster. In the past, some jurors have waited six or more weeks for their payment.

People will have a harder time trying to skip out on jury duty. Those ignoring the mailer will be tracked sent follow-up notices. Aikman said residents may open themselves up to a fine if they don’t contact the court.

“Before we would postpone but not to a specific date,” Aikman said. “It’s going to be harder to come up with excuses because we will be following up with them.”

The changes that involve appearing at the courthouse will begin on October 14 in South Lake Tahoe. Court officials say that minor details still have to be worked out but the new procedure will benefit everyone.

“We don’t have the perfect system yet,” said Judge Thomas Smith. “It will be much more user-friendly and much closer to the kind of customer service the courts would like to provide in all their dealings with citizens.”


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