By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Leaders of Philadelphia’s court system say they face a “crisis” because so many people are willfully ignoring summons to show up for jury duty. Now, a top judge plans a crackdown.
At a city council budget hearing, John Herron, Administrative Judge of Common Pleas Court, said the response to jury summons by Philadelphia residents is falling to dangerous levels.
“We now see 13 out of 100 reporting for jury service,” Herron said. “We have a crisis, and our entire system whether it’s criminal or civil depends on those jurors coming in and honoring the call.”
And Herron said some even mail the summons back — with a nasty message to court administrators.
“We are actually receiving jury summons back from individuals with a very impolite expression on the summons face,” he said. “And one of those begins with ‘You can go–‘ and I’ll let you fill it in.”
So Herron said May will bring a carrot-and-stick approach, with a jury appreciation day at the beginning of the month, and at month’s end, he will haul jury scofflaws into court.
“Not only do we get no response, but we get a horrendous response, showing that the acceptance of jury just isn’t recognized,” the judge said. “So we’re going to have to use a stick, unfortunately. It’s the last thing we want to do.”
Scofflaw court had been eliminated about a decade ago, but Herron said he’s reviving it four times a year. He told council members that exacerbating the crisis is a greater need for jurors because of a year-old program to stem witness intimidation. The effort uses indicting grand juries to speed up cases where witness intimidation could become a factor.
“The requirement for good jurors, and additional jurors, to staff those indicting grand juries is crucial to the effort to address witness intimidation,” he said.
Under state law, anyone who ignores a jury summons could face up to $500 in fines and up to ten days in a lock-up. When asked by a council member if the carrot-and-stick approach represented a comprehensive strategy, Judge Herron was realistic:
“We have a strategy,” he said. “I’m not so sure it’s comprehensive.”