MARIETTA - Summer always proves to be an extra difficult time to seat jurors for the Washington County Common Pleas Court.
For a typical criminal case, 50 jurors are called. For her last jury pool, Washington County Common Pleas Court Bailiff Renee Marshall excused seven of the 50 jurors and only 28 of the remaining 43 showed up.
"We always send out more juror notices around vacation time and holidays," said Marshall.
On average 5 percent of jurors are excused and an additional 5 percent simply do not show up, estimated Marshall.
Potential jurors are notified by mail what day they are expected to report.
For larger trials, it is important to send out more notices because potential pre-trial publicity issues mean more people would be likely be weeded out during the selection process, said Marshall.
Jury selection would have begun Monday for Steven Leonhart, 36, of Whipple, who was accused of the Jan. 12 aggravated murder of 35-year-old Willard D. "Willy" Baker.
Leonhart pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated murder, one count of first-degree aggravated burglary and a second-degree charge of felonious assault.
Though the trial never got to jury selection, Marshall said she sent out jury notices to an initial pool of 100 jurors and then sent out a second round of 50 additional notices.
The main reason summer presents a problem is because many potential jurors are out of town when they receive their notice.
"I've had someone not get their mail until two days after a trial happened," said Marshall.
The court can file contempt of court charges against jurors who fail to appear. However, Marshall does not recall having ever needing to file charges in her 13 years as a bailiff.
"We usually send them a letter telling them not to do it again, and they do not do it a second time," said Marshall.
If someone does not want to sit on a jury, he or she can ask to be excused.
Excused absences include previously scheduled appointments and trips or documented illness. Work is not usually considered an excuse but the circumstances are considered, said Marshall.
Though opinions about jury duty vary, some people are anxious for the chance to sit on a jury.
"I was very interested in how it all would work. I was actually happy to go," said Angie Simms, 38, of Marietta.
Simms went through the jury selection process several years ago but was not selected for the jury. Though she found the process intimidating, Simms said she would still like to sit on a jury.
"Now that I'm older, I think I can maybe see both sides of an incident and understand it a lot better," she said.
Others see serving as a juror as part of their civic duty.
"I consider it a part of being involved in a judicial system that is actually processed by the people that it governs," said Richard Lambeth, 28, of Marietta, who sat on a jury five years ago.
Often, a juror not showing up for selection is likely the result of a misplaced or forgotten jury duty notice, said Marshall.
"I never got to serve on one, and I'd always wanted to," said Marietta resident Bruce Wunderlich.
Wunderlich got several notices over the years, but the cases were always settled out of court. Eventually, Wunderlich received a jury notice that he set aside and forgot about.
"The one time I forgot to call, it actually went to trial," he said.
Wunderlich called the court the next day and said the staff was understanding about the situation.
"I said I was very, very sorry, and I think they could tell I meant it," he said.
To avoid missing jury duty, Marshall recommends making a note in a planner or even setting an electronic reminder as soon a jury notice is received.