I’ve been practicing law in Dallas for more than 40 years now. And for every bit of that time Dallas County has had a problem with people who are called for jury duty not showing up to serve. One reason it’s been a problem for so long is that there has essentially been no enforcement of the law requiring service. If you ignore the jury summons, nothing happens to you. Until now, perhaps.
As reported by the Dallas Morning News, Dallas County has begun a pilot program to enforce this civic responsibility. It’s not yet a really serious attempt at enforcement, but at least it’s a start. Here are excerpts from the newspaper article:
A pilot program that began this year requires no-show jurors to appear before a judge where they are publicly chastised. They are then offered a chance to reschedule their jury duty, and if they don’t show up again, they can be fined $1,000 or arrested.
Only 1 in 5 Dallas County residents summoned for jury duty shows up, said state District Judge Martin Lowy, a civil courts jurist who is the administrative judge for the county. No-show jurors cause an endless cycle of frustration for some courts. Showing up for jury duty is not voluntary: It’s a civil duty, and it’s the law.
Arrest is unlikely. Jurors who don’t show for duty can be jailed for contempt of court, but the county jail is already stuffed with people who have committed far more serious crimes. The county also has more than 190,000 unserved warrants for people who are wanted, and limited resources for finding and jailing them.
The county summons hundreds of thousands of jurors each year. Most no-shows will never be called before a judge.
“I don’t think we would ever have the resources to reach out and touch everybody who doesn’t appear,” Lowy said. “But we want people to know it’s a possibility.”
Under the pilot program, 60 to 80 no-show jurors are summoned two afternoons a week before an associate judge to reschedule their service.
There have not yet been any arrests or fines under the pilot program. Lowy says that hasn’t happened because the program is in its infancy.
If arrest warrants are eventually issued for those who fail to appear for jury duty or for the hearing before an associate judge, the warrants most likely would be added to the pile of others waiting to be served, Lowy said.