Judge chastises jurors who failed to report
Published: March 21, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The territory's chief federal judge dished out strong words, but no jail time or fines, to a handful of V.I. residents who appeared in court Wednesday on orders to explain why they failed to report to jury service earlier this year.
Chief District Judge Curtis Gomez emphasized to each of the jurors that jury service is not optional under federal law and that the courts cannot operate without the participation of jurors.
Under federal law, anyone summoned for jury service who fails to appear and then fails to show good cause for failing to appear can be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned up to three days, ordered to perform community service, or any combination of the three.
"The court is of the opinion that jury service is one of the most important things you can do for your country and your community," Gomez said.
He listed examples of famous Americans who have reported for jury service, including Oprah Winfrey, Vice President Joe Biden and several U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Gomez also asked the jurors to consider what they would want to happen if they were involved with a criminal or civil matter before the court.
"You would want people to come into this court and sitting in this jury box who were concerned with your case and who would listen to the evidence," he said.
After hearing from each of the seven jurors present, Gomez found that a majority had good cause for not appearing for jury service.
The jurors' reasons for failing to appear for service varied widely.
One woman told the judge that she is almost 78 years old and believed that a waiver from service for those over 70 automatically applied to her.
A man told the court that he changed his mailing address last fall and had filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service about not being able to have mail forwarded from his former post office box.
One juror told Gomez that she thought her summons was to appear at V.I. Superior Court, which is next door to the federal courthouse. She said she appeared at the local court building and someone told her that jury service had been cancelled for the day.
In each case, Gomez corrected the jurors - for instance: "It's the building on the waterfront that says, 'federal court' " - but he did not issue any punishment.
A few of the jurors offered weaker reasons for failing to appear, and Gomez ruled they did not provide good cause for missing jury service.
In two cases, Gomez ruled that the jurors showed some cause, but he was unsure whether it was good cause; in two others, he ruled the jurors did not show good cause for missing service.
In one of the cases, the juror said she had requested to be excused from service but never heard back from the court, so she assumed her request had been granted.
One woman said she called in to the phone service that notifies jurors whether their service will be required on the following Monday; the woman said she only listened to the part of the phone message that said her services were not required and did not listen to the part that tells jurors to call back the following week to check again whether they will be needed.
"I don't think that's good cause," Gomez said.
In each of the cases, Gomez asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Ishmael Meyers to recommend a penalty from the government's point of view. Meyers each time said the government recommended that Gomez admonish the juror. Then the prosecutor warned each juror that if he or she appears on a show cause order again, the government will seek jail time and fines.
As part of his ruling with respect to two of the jurors who failed to show good cause, Gomez instructed the jurors to keep in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office to try to come up with ideas for how to spread the word about the importance of jury service.
Gomez issued 20 show-cause orders on March 8, ordering 20 absent jurors in the St. Thomas-St. John District to explain why they did not appear for mandatory jury service on Jan. 28, Feb. 4, March 4 or some combination of those dates.
Aside from the seven jurors who appeared Wednesday, 10 of the show-cause orders were returned unexecuted, meaning marshals were unable to locate the individuals in question, according to online court records.
The status of the three remaining individuals for whom show-cause orders were issued but who did not appear Wednesday was unclear from court records.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.