Jury-duty skippers face judge at ‘Juror Scofflaw Court’

Credit: Wikimedia Common Credit: Wikimedia Common

Citizens who ignored jury duty summonses learned about consequences juror scofflaw court on Wednesday.

“I gotta pay a fine and I still gotta come back?” asked Herbert M. Edgerton III, 36, who was fined $100 and given a new jury duty date after claiming he didn’t show up because he didn’t know where the court was.

“Yeah you have to come back — what do you think this is, a joke?” snapped Judge Jeffrey Minehart, who presided over the hearing. Minehart also pointed out that a jury summons comes with a map of how to get to court.

Of 52 people summoned to juror scofflaw court, which was resurrected in May after 14 years to address dropping jury duty attendance rates, several did not show up.

“So we have 18 people who failed to do their civic duty, and now even fail to come into juror scofflaw court. It’s outrageous,” Minehart said, before ordering bench warrants for those individuals’ arrests.

Sixteen people pleaded guilty, accepted $50 fines and got new jury duty dates.

“You all look like fine people. “We want good jurors to come in. … There’s no reason why your neighbors and fellow citizens should have to serve and you don’t,” Minehart told them. “Jury duty’s not easy, but it’s interesting, I’ll tell you that … It’s tough, but that’s what being a good citizen is.”

“This is not something we take any pleasure in doing,” Jury Commissioner Daniel Rendine said. “But it’s just not fair to their fellow citizens.”

Others were dismissed or given new jury duty dates after presenting what the court found to be legitimate excuses.

Seven people had been summoned into court during the heavy snowfall of this winter, including on snow days when City Hall was officially closed and SEPTA service was sporadic — but court was still open.

Rosalyn Cooper, of Southwest Philly, assumed court was closed due to snowfall on March 25 when she was summoned in. Minehart waived fines for her and the other people who missed court due to snow days, and gave them new jury duty dates.

“It worked out pretty well, because it was really not my fault,” Cooper said.

Some disputed their case and won.

One potential juror confidentially told the judge that he was a drug user. Minehart dismissed him due to have a “disability.”

Yasir Zarif El, 58, brought a miniature U.S. flag and red flag with a star to the podium and told the judge, “This court has no jurisdiction over me. … I’m not a citizen of America. I’m a citizen of Moorish America.”

El complained that the letters were addressed to his name in all capitals.

“My name is uppercase-lowercase. Not all capitals. That’s not my name,” he said. “Contact my consulate.”

Minehart dismissed El from jury duty, saying, “We don’t think you belong on a jury. Go back and tell your Moorish nation that you won … We want good citizens on a jury.”

After El left, Minehart explained, “[he] clearly was in another universe. I’m not going to waste my time sending him a summons, because he’s never going to come in.”

Juror scofflaw court was resurrected in May after 14 years to deal with juror attendance.

In 2013, only 13 to 18 percent of 576,000 people summoned came in to court.

About 35 percent did not respond. The remainder were excused for legitimate reasons.

But Rendine said more people have been responding to summonses since scofflaw court came back.

“People get very discouraged when they come, even if they don’t get on a panel, or they get assigned and don’t get pick, they say it’s a waste of time,” he said. “But for a criminal case, a homicide, we need at least 60 people. Only 14 are going to get picked, 12 jurors and 2 alternates.”

Rendine also noted that for the roughly 200,000 citizens who don’t respond to two jury-duty summonses, the state has spent $200,000 just on sending them mail alone.

“That’s $200,000 down the drain,” he said. “Hopefully, after today, people will start to get the message.”

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