ON DEC. 27 we published an article on the opposite page by a decidedly disgruntled veteran of jury duty in the city's Superior Court. The author, Art Pine, emphasized that neither he nor the dozens of other jurors he talked with objected in any way to serving; they had simply reached a verdict that the system is haphazardly run, wasteful and unnecessarily hard on those called to duty. The article generated considerable response from sympathetic readers. Mr. Pine, who noted in the article that Chief Judge Harold H. Greene "didn't even answer the private letter I sent him in November," Still hasn't heard from the judge, however. On the other hand, perhaps he has - in the famous John Mitchell sense of watch-what-we-do-not-what-we-say. In any case, pursuing our role as a communication channel in this matter, we are pleased to call Mr. Pine's attention to some things that Judge Greene is doing to ease some of the needless strains on citizens.
His moves are constructive, though merely a start on solving the problems. They were outlined in a letter last week to David A. Clarke, chairman of the city council's judiciary committee. The procedural changes are based on a court study of jury management pratices that Judge Greene said has just been completed. To address one recurring complaint - that some people are called forjury duty repeatedly while others are never selected - Judge Greene is changing the selection procedures. From World War II until about five years ago, names were drawn from Polk's City Directory; since then, names have been drawn at random from the city's election rolls.Now, the source of names will be supplemented by the names of people who have drivers' licenses - putting about 167,000 additional people into the pool.
Mr. Pine also noted that the term of jury service - which was running four to five weeks - was far too long. Judge Greene says the court will experiment with terms of two or three weeks, although he's not ready, alas, to cut the term permanently. But some changes are being made to lower the number of people called for each term, as well to give them more notice. Many jurors had been receiving their summons only a week or so before the start of their term and some had been receiving even shorter notice. Judge Greene says that from now on the notices will be mailed out four weeks before each proposed term.
As for the miseries of actual duty - including a general insensitivity to the feelings and needs of those who do wind up serving - the judge has ordered a few helpful adjustments. For example, the first-day orientation ordeal, which has involved the tedious processing of what has been 8oo to 900 people in a group, is being speeded up; also, the daily roll call - another inefficient and unnecessary rite - is being eliminated. Another change is aimed at a common complaint that some jurors are rarely tapped for courtroom action while others are called far more often. From now on, authorities are supposed to check that every available juror has been sent out on at least one panel before others are sent out on their second panels. Moreover, Judge Greene has asked all judges not to request panels sent to their courtrooms until jurors are actually needed. There are to be midday checks on the judges' needs, too, so that many jurors can be excused for the afternoons. Judge Greene is also proposing legislation to reduce the allowed number of peremptory challenges and the number of jurors in all civil cases (from 12 to 6).
All of these adjustments should help to make life on jury duty a little more bearable. But the judge's 24-page letter doesn't focus adequately on the most exacerbating aspect of jury duty - the requirement that jurors remain at the court instead of on call. In Moroe County, New York (which includes Rochester), for example, a highly successful telephone-alert system has saved money as well as citizen time - in 1976, a total of 3,490 juror days; for a total (at $12 a day) of $41, 880. Those who prefer to be on call are required to be in court within one hour after they're called. We fail to see any good reason for not adopting a similar system in Superior Court.