Friday, December 1, 2023

Unprecedented Numbers of Mendocino County Residents are No-Shows for Jury Duty Delaying Trials

An empty juror room at the Mendocino County Courthouse in Ukiah [Photo by Phil Grubraugh]

About one in three Mendocino County residents summoned for possible jury duty are failing to show up.

Court statistics show that more than 12,000 people failed to appear at the county courthouse during the past year. They neither sought postponements nor asked to be excused. They just did not appear.

“It is a disturbingly high percentage,” said Kim Turner, Court Executive for the Mendocino County Superior Court.

Mendocino County is not an exception to a statewide trend. Trial court functions everywhere have been disrupted during Covid pandemic-related times, but the degree of failure among locals is startling, according to Turner.

“Our rate of failure to appear jumped to 33 percent for the fiscal year that just ended,” said Turner. In past years, that rate hovered between 20-25 percent. 

Turner said the lack of jurors is hampering the jury selection process and is slowing down the ability to conduct civil and criminal trials in a timely manner. 

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Presiding Judge Jeanine Nadel said she worries about a shift away from citizens accepting a traditional civic duty.

“Jurors are absolutely essential to the process and without their full engagement, our justice system could come to a grinding halt,” said Nadel.

There are examples of major local criminal trials experiencing delays.

In late June, for example, the scheduled trial of the last of six defendants in a high-profile 2020 Covelo murder case was delayed because not enough potential jurors responded for jury selection to move ahead. 

The case was put on hold while the availability of witnesses in the future could be checked. Fortunately, in the meantime, a plea agreement was reached with the last defendant in the case and a trial was averted.

The situation is similar in courts trying civil cases. 

“We are juggling the best we can, including moving potential jurors who show up for one planned to another,” said Turner.

The Covid pandemic seriously interrupted court functions statewide beginning in 2020. For a period, trials were delayed because of potential health risks from convening large panels of potential jurors, and the stress on court staff, lawyers, spectators, and others involved in court proceedings.

Courts adopted new juror strategies as the pandemic concerns eased, and for a time they worked.

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A mural depicting Lady Justice at the Mendocino County Courthouse [Picture by Mike Geniella]

Turner said oddly in Mendocino County the failure to appear rate dropped to just nine percent during the worst of that era.

“People kept showing up, and we were able to function pretty smoothly even with trial delays,” she said.

Recent court statistics provided by Turner show that 40,179 jury summonses were mailed to eligible county residents in 2020-21 compared to 37,500 in 2021-22. 

Yet only 3,584 people failed to show up in 2020-21 compared to a sharp increase to 12,373 in 2021-22. 

In reality, only a small number of potential jurors summoned end up being sworn in to serve during court trials. Thousands of potential jurors are typically excused for hardship (medical, financial, care for a child or dependent adult, no transportation, and other reasons) or disqualified because they do not meet age, residency, citizenship, and other requirements. 

Still, large numbers of potential jurors are needed for questioning by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys before a dozen and alternates are selected to decide the outcome of individual criminal and civil cases.

“The simple fact is if we don’t have enough potential jurors for the process, the entire system gets thrown off,” said Turner.

There are no clear answers to why so many residents are now ignoring jury summons.

Turner said there are always economic issues at play, especially in inflationary times.

“I was told recently by a coast resident that he could not afford to drive to and from Ukiah daily because of the current gas prices,” said Turner. Potential jurors receive token reimbursements for their milage, and loss of wages if they are employed. 

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Still, residents need to show up and explain the difficulties of their serving to presiding trial judges, said Turner.

 “We accommodate people the best we can but to not show up at all is a disservice all the way around,” said Turner.

The courts have the power to order show cause hearings for no-shows. “We may have to do that to understand why people are choosing to ignore this basic civic responsibility. We have to understand what is behind this troubling trend,” said Turner.

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  1. When you see those in power ignore subpoenas to show up to testify, why then should us lowly folks respond to jury duty notices? Also gas has become unaffordable for most. Maybe look at upping the reimbursement since gas has become so expensive.

  2. 12,000! Pitiful. Well, since lawlessness prevails in both high and low places in Mendocino County and northern California, what can one expect? When the law is not supported the law will not exist. In other jurisdictions, failure to appear for jury duty without cause is actionable under the law. Attention Superior Court and DA Eyster, isn’t time to light a fire under some lazy butts?

    • Yeah, arrest all 12,000 people! Fuck the law, when it penalizes people for doing their constitutional duty! Increase the pay for jury duty and people will then be able to afford to serve! Have you served Michaelkupf?

  3. Last year I submitted a health letter from my Dr asking I be excused for life due to my condition. This year I got a summons again, so I wrote to the court to remind them of my Dr excuse. No reply. So this week I tried calling the court jury office to double check as I do not want to be in trouble. The outgoing message states they don’t have enough staff to answer phone calls. So I went to the website and submitted a request to double check my status, I’m still waiting for a reply. The coin is two sided here, even if you try to the right thing, how do you get anyone at the court to listen?

  4. Try sending the notifications out to people who still live in the corrupt communities. Many people have left the shitshow!

  5. I had jury duty last year, and was packed in a room with about 40-50 people from every corner of the county. No social distancing. I live about 40 minutes from the court house and had to show up for three days to never be called upon. The reimbursement didn’t even cover the gas ( that was before the gas price went up.) being self employed, it put me behind in work. The whole experience was nerve racking and pissed me off.
    I will do what I can to stay away from being in that situation again.

    • Yes, the way this antiquated system is set up is wrong for current times!If they can’t pay more than a few dollars a day whats the point!

  6. Current fuel prices and inflation.
    Insufficient compensation for lost wages/mileage expenses.
    Lack of confidence in “justice/legal system”: pay-to-play, prop 47, early prisoner releases, etc. etc.
    Failure of the court to respond sensibly, from any perspective, to Corona virus concerns.
    Inability of the court to sort out the Ten Mile-to-ukiah issue.


    Quick Question- if a non-citizen with no ability to speak, understand, or read English is exempted from jury service then why the hell are they allowed to vote in our elections? The last two times I was called in to jury duty the defendant had to wear translator headphones. Mixed messages

    • What are you talking about Cherrie? A non-citizen can still be convicted and tried in US courts, and it has nothing to do with voting rights or serving on a jury. Translators are provided so that the defendant can answer and understand what they’re defending themselves against in an attempt to provide a fair trial. You should try to understand issues clearly and correctly before letting your outrage guide your misinformed opinions.

  7. It’s a no Brainer Noone can do jury duty for no money the cost of living demands us to work instead of do our duty bit if they paid us what is like what 100 plus for the day you would seethose drop out numbers come back

  8. I sat on a jury for a trial. No credit though, so I still get summons like everyone else. Funny though, they always tell you to recuse yourself if you have been a victim of a similar crime and have problem with it. Since so many are now in that category, given the sorry state of morality here and probably elsewhere, seems like it would be hard to find anyone who was not already affected.

  9. Hey you guys – as an eligible member of the jury pool , thought I should share the outcome of multiple summons : after calling the number to confirm the day before , excused from even coming in to the court house . Most recently June 2022 . Curious as to why they aren’t even calling people in to be vetted or excused – yet I am reading this ( along with several recent stories highlighting delays in local cases due to the lack of a jury pool ) 🤷‍♀️

  10. Maybe some investigative reporting into the “why”. Is there something wrong with the way the courts are sending out summons. One comment stated when they called they received a message stating due to low staffing there was not anyone to answer the phone. Mike, you were inside for years and should have some insight into what may be the issue. There is a lot more to this story than people not showing up. Too many times you show up and they do not need you, and you lose a day of work. It is 2022 and maybe the antiquated process needs to be updated, and the reimbursement for costs should be addressed. You should not make money sitting on a jury, but you should not lose money either.

  11. All courts in Mendocino County are now part of the Superior Court system and able to handle jury trials. Ukiah residents are never summoned to the coast for jury duty yet residents from all areas of the county are required to go to Ukiah. When the outlying courts were Justice courts it was different because some trials required a Superior Court format. Handle jury trials locally, like civil trials are. Even some criminal trials are held at the outlying courts but not most. Pull Ukiah court trial jurors from Ukiah.

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