D.C. Arrests Residents For Missing Jury Service
Monday, July 14, 2008
For the first six months of the year, Laurette M. Piculin lives with her elderly parents in Rockland County, N.Y. While she's gone from her house in Northwest Washington, a friend gathers her mail and sends it along.
Piculin's friend might have missed a key piece of mail last year: a second notice requiring her to appear for jury duty. That omission put the 51-year-old retired federal mediator at risk of arrest.
Hoping to send a message about the importance of jury service, the chief judge at D.C. Superior Court recently issued warrants calling for the arrests of 92 District residents who failed to show up. Twelve people have been arrested or turned themselves in this month for contempt of court, and marshals are canvassing the area for more. Those taken into custody had to pay $25 bonds and were given dates to report back to court for a final chance to explain themselves and get back on the calendar for jury service. The penalty for contempt of court could be as high as seven days in jail and a $300 fine.
"The point of this whole thing is to get people to serve on juries. It's not to lock them up," Chief Judge Rufus G. King III said.
But not everyone on the list is a jury scofflaw. The Washington Post reviewed the list and confirmed several cases of people who no longer live in the city. Two people are deceased, according to a review of records. And several residents said they never received the summonses.
King acknowledged that the computer system that pulls names and addresses from various D.C. government databases, including voter, motor vehicle and tax records, was "not current" and was being updated to provide the court with more real-time information on District residents.
Piculin, who has lived in the District for 30 years, said that she would never skip jury duty and that she has served on juries in the District in the past.
She said the friend who was picking up her mail received the first jury summons and acted on it. The friend sent a letter to the court on Piculin's behalf, stating that she was living in New York at the time. Piculin said she thought the written explanation excused her from jury duty. It did not.
"I never received any more notices, so I thought everything was taken care of at that point," Piculin said. If another notice was sent, the friend missed it, she said. "I guess I need to call them and get this straightened out."
She did, and she is to report for jury service July 22.
Anthony Weedon, 27, also learned from The Post that he was on the list, a day after he got home from being on a jury panel for a robbery case. He wasn't picked, but he said he spent about six hours waiting in the jury room. Weedon said the previous jury notices apparently went to an address that he left about six years ago. The most recent jury summons came to his correct address, and that was how he knew to come to court.
"Clearly, they're not on the same page over there," Weedon said.