Wood County residents shirking jury duty; courts feeling impact
PARKERSBURG — A number of people in Wood County have not been responding to jury summons and it is becoming a concern for local officials.
Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure said the courts in Wood County have been seeing more and more people not showing up for jury duty.
“We have had this ongoing problem for the last couple of years about jury service and people not just showing up for jury service, even when they are summoned to do so,” Lefebure said. “It seems to be getting progressively worse and it is starting to affect the day-to-day operations of the court.”
The county recently had a special session of the Grand Jury called and three people did not show for jury duty. Wood County sheriff’s deputies had to be dispatched to try to track those people down. One did eventually show up at court, but the other two could not be located.
“Ultimately, that day of Grand Jury had to be canceled, which is a great cost to the county,” Lefebure said.
The county had to pay the 14 Grand Jurors who showed up as well as different departments had to pay overtime for around 15 law enforcement officers who were subpoenaed to testify. The prosecutor’s office also had a lot of time invested in getting everything ready for the session.
“We couldn’t do anything that day and it ultimately had to be canceled,” Lefebure said.
A special Grand Jury session is usually to focus on people who are already incarcerated so the county can keep their cases moving forward. The county has been watching its spending on the regional jail bill with the Wood County Commission urging officials to move quickly on the cases.
“The net effect is to reduce the regional jail bill,” Lefebure said.
On average, for a felony jury trial around 35-40 people are called out and around five have not been showing up. Many people not showing up do not want to be a part of a system they don’t think is working, the prosecuting attorney said. Other people feel they are too busy with work and cannot do it.
Employers are supposed to let people off for jury duty.
“You have to be able to do your civic duty and work has to release you for that,” Lefebure said.
The courts can provide a slip to people saying they were in jury duty they can give to their employer as proof they were in jury duty, he said.
Other people feel it is a burden and they just don’t want to do it.
“Most people, once they are there, realize this is important and follow through,” Lefebure said. “We want to make the public aware of how important that service is.”
If people do not come, they could be called before a judge for a “Show Cause Hearing” where people have to tell the judge why they didn’t report. They could face a civil penalty and fined up to $1,000 under West Virginia Code 52-1-24.
Lefebure acknowledges people have things happen that require them to have to miss, like a family member in the hospital and other emergencies. People are given a number to contact the bailiff of the court to notify them of any potential problems.
“We understand that,” he said. “We need to know so we would then be able to move on to the next alternate juror.”
When people are sent their initial jury summons notice, there is a place people can list times they will not be available and they will be excused.
“They give them that opportunity,” Lefebure said of people who know a family member will have surgery or if they have a vacation scheduled for a certain time.
He wants to remind people of the need to do their civic duty.
“Our government will not exist without their cooperation and their help,” Lefebure said. “I think it is important that we get the message out that everyone is concerned about the problems we have here in the community and we need everyone’s cooperation moving forward to be able to combat that.
“Sometimes, that means doing your civic duty and coming in and performing the jury service, whether on an actual jury or the Grand Jury. In failing to appear, it is actually hindering our efforts to help the community and to keep these cases moving forward.”