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BREAKING NEWS

It’s your ‘duty’ to serve

By Staff | Jun 26, 2010

Court administrator Vicky Driscoll and law clerk Peter Odgren place note pads on chairs where jurors will sit.

It’s not very often a trial is held at the Faribault County Courthouse.

So, when one is scheduled you would think all those called for jury duty would show up.

Wrong.

That was the case recently when only 20 of 35 prospective jurors took the time on the morning of June 17 to see if they would be picked.

“I’ve always showed up when I’ve been called,” says 66-year-old Catherine Oldfather of Kiester. “I just believe it’s my duty.”

Oldfather served on a jury 35 years ago and was excused for consideration on another occasion.

Bridget Zierke, a 2009 graduate of Blue Earth Area High School, was caught off guard when she received a letter in April regarding jury duty.

“I didn’t know what to do. Most of my friends have never served or gotten a letter,” she says.

But, the 19-year-old Zierke knows the importance of participating in the legal process.

In her senior year, she enrolled in post-secondary classes at Minnesota State University, Mankato — one being on U.S. government.

“Being a juror was an eye-opening experience. You get to see how things work inside the courtroom and the trial process,” Zierke says.

Court officials say some of the people notified for a June 17 trial began arriving before 8 a.m., well ahead of the 8:15 a.m. check-in time. In all, 20 people made it to the courthouse without having to be reminded.

When it became evident the others weren’t going to report, workers in the court administrator’s office began making phone calls.

For Faribault County law clerk Peter Odgren, it’s hard to understand how anyone can forget to show up. After all, it’s their civic duty.

“A defendant has the right to be judged by his peers. Serving on a jury is the fabric of our legal system,” says Odgren.

The telephone calls produced an extra four people for a juror pool of 24.

Being chosen for jury service doesn’t come as a total surprise.

Names are randomly selected from a list of licensed drivers, state identification cardholders and registered voters in the county.

Court administrator Vicky Driscoll says an agency contracted by the state sends the county a list of people to be contacted.

A summons to appear is then sent along with a questionnaire to determine if the person qualifies to be a juror.

“Anyone who has served as a juror in the last four years is not eligible and a person 70 years of age or older is not required to serve,” says Driscoll.

Jury service terms are for four months; January through April; May through August; and September through December.

Serving on a jury isn’t going to earn you a lot of money.

For the June 17 trial, jurors were at the courthouse for some 11 hours and were each paid $10 for the day, plus mileage.

Anyone taking part in the jury selection process also received the same pay.

Driscoll reasons that some people don’t show up for jury duty because the county recently switched to a system used statewide to notify jurors.

“I think many people are still use to getting a letter in the mail and not calling in,” she says.

After 5 p.m. Friday, jurors are required to call an information hotline each weekend throughout their term of service. The recorded message will tell them if they have been selected and the date and time they must report.

Judge Douglas Richards says court officials have the challenge of educating the public on the importance of being a juror.

He says those who do not cooperate are sent a letter or receive a personal visit from the sheriff.

“That usually gives them sufficient incentive to appear the next time,” Richards adds.

Those who continue to ignore their judicial obligation could find themselves in hot water.

In the 15 years he’s served on the bench, Richards has never had to sanction anyone.

Richards says he could issue an order for contempt of court. That would allow him to sentence a person to jail for up to 180 days.

“We don’t want to force anyone or have people show up by using the hammer of the law,” he says. “They should participate because it is their civic responsibility.”