Four jurors who failed to complete their jury service as instructed filed into a Bibb County courtroom Friday.
They’d each been visited by a deputy who served a court order instructing them to come to court to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt.
Bibb County’s Superior Court instituted a juror attendance policy this spring after too few jurors showed up during a trial week in February, forcing postponement of a murder trial because a jury couldn’t be selected.
As part of the policy, jurors who fail to show up for duty are issued summonses to appear in court for a hearing, such as the one held Friday. They may later be subjected to a series of sanctions -- which could include a fine or incarceration -- if they don’t complete their duty as instructed.
The law allows for certain people to be exempted from jury service, including people over 70, the disabled and caregivers for children 6 or under.
As part of Friday’s hearing, Judge Howard Simms instructed the clerk’s office to remove one of the four jurors attending the hearing from the county’s juror rolls due to what she described as an ongoing medical problem.
Explaining why she didn’t return to jury duty after leaving for lunch on the first day, the 68-year-old woman said her health problem flared up.
She said she called the clerk’s office multiple times and also left a message.
“I did not just ignore it,” the woman said.
Simms instructed the clerk’s office to issue new jury summonses for the other three people for service in November.
The jurors were called to the front of the courtroom during the hearing to explain why they had missed jury duty.
One man told the judge he nearly cut off his thumb at work and forgot to call the clerk’s office for instructions -- as required -- after the second day.
A woman said she also forgot to call on two days after her infant granddaughter was hospitalized.
“I just had a lot going on,” she said.
Another man said he simply forgot to call after the second day.
An order was issued earlier this month for a fifth juror to attend Friday’s hearing, but she did not. Court records show the order was delivered to the woman’s mother Sept. 11.
Simms spent several minutes Friday explaining the importance of jury duty to the four jurors who attended the hearing.
The right to a trial by jury is as fundamental a right as any listed in the Constitution, but people treat jury service as more of an inconvenience than a duty, he said.
“It’s a part of the price we pay for the kind of society that we live in,” Simms said. “When you get that jury summons in the mail, you ought not look at it as a burden. You ought to look at it as fulfilling sort of a plan that was set in place when they founded this country.”
Without jurors, trials can’t be held, he said.
“If we can’t try cases, the whole criminal justice system just falls apart,” Simms told them.
Simms ended the hearing by telling the three jurors who must repeat their jury duty, “Don’t disappoint me.”
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.