Courtesy Harris County District Clerk
About 30 percent of people that were summoned for jury duty in 2011–more than 148,000–did not appear.
There has not been a big push to serve as a juror in awhile, so some people do not see the civic duty as a high priority like they once did, said Chris Daniel, Harris County district clerk.
“The more people that show up to jury service helps us save taxpayer dollars because we can be more efficient with our jury summons, we send out fewer papers, we use less postage and we are more accurately able to predict what the judges are going to need,” he said. “And with a bigger jury pool, we can get the best cross section representative of Harris County.”
In the mid-’80s some judges were stricter on people skipping jury duty, Daniel said.
“Many of those judges were retiring and they had nothing to lose so they really enforced the failure to appear citations,” he said. “They had to pay the $250 penalty, at that time, and serve how ever many number of days in jail, and we had a spike in people showing up for jury service.”
Now there is a $500 penalty for failure to serve as well as jail time. But as demographics and the economy changed, the county got back into a rut in the ’90s in regards to enforcing the law, Daniel said.
Due to the sheriff’s office being understaffed and jury duty not being a top priority of the district attorney’s office, not as many people are penalized for skipping jury duty.
“Even with a short staff, they are still attempting to enforce these failure to appears,” Daniel said. “We still send out regular notices to everyone that fails to appear and we send a copy of that to the sheriff’s office.”
Over the last couple of years, the district clerk’s office has tried to make jury duty service as convenient as possible.
People can reschedule their jury service online or through an automated phone system immediately upon receiving their summons. Prospective jurors can reschedule up to six months out as long as it is for the same day of the week, and they can reschedule up to three times.
The court also offers wireless Internet while people wait through the jury selection process.
A new Jury Plaza building was completed in July. It streamlines the security system and gives tunnel access to various courts, which allows people to avoid inclement weather. Jurors can take the METRO Park & Ride anywhere from the county and be dropped off right at the building.
“We want you to serve and we realize that life happens, so we want to make it as easy as possible for you to serve because we need people from all walks of life so that we have the best, well-rounded jury,” Daniel said.