The way that Georgia counties create pools of potential jurors changes today.
That means that more people could be called for jury duty, but those who are called should be called less often. Also, some Georgians who have been excused from jury duty may be added back into pools as bugs are worked out.
"We ask that everyone be patient with us during this transitional period," Fancy Moran, Catoosa County Superior Court clerk, wrote in a news release. "I can assure you that my staff and I will do everything we can to rectify problems if they occur."
What's changing is that Georgia has ended "forced balancing" of jury pools. Since the 1960s, each county has had a board of jury commissioners who used U.S. census data to compile a pool of potential jurors that matched their county's racial, age and gender demographics.
This process was called "balancing the box," and it was "very tedious," said Jody Overcash, district court administrator of Georgia's 14-county 7th Judicial District. The district includes Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Gordon, Murray, Walker and Whitfield counties.
"We'd have to make the jury pool representative of the county makeup," Overcash said. Jury commissioners sat down with a spreadsheet and handpicked the jury pools so the members fit each demographic category.
Jurors are selected randomly from the jury pool. So juries themselves wouldn't necessarily match the demographics, she said.
One criticism of the forced balancing system is that it excluded some potential jurors to get the proportions correct. Another criticism was that counties' demographics would change and the U.S. census data wouldn't keep up because the census only occurs once a decade.
On May 3, 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal signed H.B. 415, the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, which deemed that the Council of Superior Courts of Georgia would create a statewide jury pool using driver's license and voter lists.
The council will send each county a master list from which juries will be selected randomly.
While the law goes into effect today, Superior Court clerks in the 7th Judicial District already have lined up juries and shouldn't have to use the new lists until the fall -- just in case there are any problems with compiling the new list, Overcash said.
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...