Economy can affect jury duty numbers

Kathie Zipp

Courts don’t overlook financial excuses

The list of jury duty excuses in Portage County Jury Commissioner Marie Kunka’s office is long, including everything from pet surgery to a boldly printed “not interested.” But financial excuses also hold place within the piles, and with the current state of the economy, Kunka said she isn’t overlooking them.

“I know two days without pay can mean a lot,” she said. “Some people are really struggling to survive, and I take that seriously.”

The New York Times reported that many courts are forced to call larger pools of jurors to meet their needs. This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, in Portage County. Kunka said although she sees a multitude of financial excuses, they haven’t affected numbers enough to have to pool more.

“I summon 200 every two weeks,” she said. “We raised the number a few years ago from 150, but not due to financial difficulties.”

Even so, there are still many who desperately report that their situations simply don’t allow for the time off.

“I work in a bakery, and we take turns with shifts,” Kunka read from her files.

“I really can’t afford to take off work,” one caller said.

“I’m 18 and didn’t know I was pregnant. Now I can’t afford it,” said another.

“I must have lost my summons behind the couch with all my bills,” is one of her favorites, Kunka said.

She said there are certain situations, however, that are always excused.

If someone is unemployed or laid off and can prove that submitting documentation, he or she isn’t expected to serve. Also, if a business consists of 25 or fewer employees and one is called, another employee isn’t expected to serve at the same time. Other people who can be excused include those 75 and older who don’t wish to serve, those with physical or mental disabilities and the Amish. Students are also excused if they can provide a schedule of classes.

Even with all these exceptions, Kunka said there are still enough left to serve jury duty in the local area. Contrary to the notion that most people don’t like serving, many people she speaks with are thrilled to finally be called. Some, she said, are eager for the experience. And for those people who are unemployed, even the $15 per day is appreciated and contributing to something can again be even more satisfying, Kunka said.

Portage County Municipal Judge John Plough said he agrees there hasn’t been an overwhelming amount of people desperate to get out of the courtroom. He attributes this to most trials in Portage County only last one to three days. But when someone tells him they can’t serve for financial reasons, he said he tries to be accommodating. Plough said he works on getting 30 people to serve and places those with financial reasons on call.

“Also, I try to be fair with the time people do give to us,” he said. ” If they volunteer on the first day of the trial, and it meets again, I let them slide to the bottom of the list of jurors for the second day.”

Plough, like Kunka, said he recognizes the fact that people are struggling and tries to balance their need with the needs of the court.

Contact public affairs reporter Kathie Zipp at [email protected]