Jury Duty at a glance
* 720 people summoned in every two weeks
* About 200 people actually show up
* Eight panels of 12 chosen to be on call
* $13 a day plus free lunch
* Discount downtown parking
Blowing off jury duty used to be easy, court personnel say, but a new Tennessee law taking effect Jan. 1 could leave docket dodgers on the hook for up to $500.
“People really don’t take jury duty seriously now,” said Stormi Rogers, Hamilton County’s jury clerk, who is responsible for making sure there are enough jury pools for scheduled trials. “They’ve seen in the past that if you don’t go, nothing happens to you.”
Among the biggest changes to the state jury summons law is the mandatory $500 fine that will be issued to those who don’t show up for service and then fail to give a reason after receiving a reminder letter.
The state also is abolishing standard exemptions for people working in traditional professions such as medicine, law and law enforcement, as well as for those over 70 years old. While these people weren’t truly exempt — they had the option, unlike the rest of the population, of putting off service for 12 months — a poll across the state showed that most county clerks usually let them slide.
Now everyone over 18 with a valid Tennessee driver’s license will be subject to the same rules, regardless of life circumstances. If summoned, everyone gets the option of putting off jury duty for up to a year. A valid excuse is required after that, after which the $500 fine could apply.
David Haines, Administrative Office of the Courts general counsel, said the General Assembly wanted the law to effectively “wipe the slate clean” and “modernize” the jury selection process to make people more accountable and also to make juries more representative of the population.
“A major question was: Why should doctors get a pass?” Mr. Haines said, noting that the conventional wisdom always had been that doctors or lawyers are better utilized in their fields than sitting on juries.
“And who’s to say that someone who’s 80 and in good health doesn’t want to serve on a jury?” Mr. Haines said about the age exemption.
Such old-fashioned thinking ultimately proved detrimental over the years, Mr. Haines said, creating an environment in which juries often were not representative of all types of people in the community.
The new rules are more strict, said Ms. Rogers said, adding the new law probably would help dwindle her roster of missing jurors. Of the 720 people summoned every two weeks in Hamilton County, only 200 or fewer usually show up, she said.
One juror recently summoned for duty said more people should quit looking at it as a hardship.
“You have the privilege to vote,” said Cigna Healthcare employee Frank Phillips. “It’s a privilege to be a part of a jury, too.”