Story last updated at 4:27 PM on Thursday, December 16, 2004

Jury duty not to be taken lightly, clerk says



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

Normally, the parking lot of the Homer District Courthouse won't have more than a half-dozen vehicles parked in it -- a jail van, a Homer Police Department cruiser or visitors to the courthouse or other offices in the building. Some mornings, though, the lot is full to overflowing, a sign that a lucky 25 or more lower Kenai Peninsula residents have jury duty.

Not every person summonsed to jury duty returns the questionnaire included in the summons, or reports when called. Homer jurors are required to check in daily by a phone recording with the jury clerk for their term of service of one month and report to court if their juror group is called. Periodically, the Homer Court reviews lists of those alleged not to have fulfilled their juror obligations and orders them to show cause why they missed jury duty. Last week, 19 people were ordered to tell it to the judge.

"(Jurors) need to show up when they're called," said Cathy Franklin, clerk of court in Homer. "It's something the law says they have to do, and it shouldn't be taken lightly."

The Homer District Court summons jurors for felony and misdemeanor jury criminal trials held in Homer. Jurors can also be called for civil suits, coroner's inquests or for presumptive death juries. There are no grand juries held in Homer, with the Kenai Grand Jury considering felony criminal indictments for the entire peninsula, including Homer.

From 150 to 200 jurors are summonsed to a monthly term or service, said Leann Flickinger of the statewide court administration in Anchorage. The Homer court draws from a pool of about 7,500 jurors from Anchor Point, Homer and Fritz Creek, said Doug Wooliver, administrative attorney for the statewide court administration. Seldovia has a list of 332 potential jurors for possible service from January to June 2005 for a trial to be held there.

As provided by state law, the court compiles jury lists from a list provided by the Alaska Department of Revenue of all people qualified for jury duty who filed an application for a Permanent Fund Dividend. A person is qualified to act as a juror if the person is a U.S. citizen and an Alaska resident, at least age 18, of sound mind and in possession of the person's natural faculties, and able to read or speak the English language. The courts can also add names from a list of people with Alaska driver's licenses.

Citizens aren't required to serve on a jury for more than a total of three months during any 2-year period, and can claim exemption for health or other reasons. People over age 70 or with permanent physical or mental disabilities can request to be permanently excused from jury duty. Potential jurors can also request to have service deferred for up to 10 months.

Homer jurors who don't show up don't automatically get in trouble. The court sends them a letter telling them to serve another month. Forget to call the jury clerk recording, only to find out you should have reported to court? Their term of service gets extended another month, too.

Flickinger said the number of jurors called depends on the kind of trial. For a misdemeanor case requiring six jurors and one alternate, about 25 jurors might be called. A felony case might require 50 or more jurors -- or even the entire monthly pool of 150 to 200. In some towns, large groups get called because so many people know each other, said Wooliver.

"Bethel calls an enormous number because of so many family members," he said.

Cities of 7,000 people or more have one-month terms, Wooliver said, although a large city like Anchorage only requires five days. Towns with between 2,000 and 7,000 potential jurors have a three-month term of service. Even smaller towns with under 2,000 jurors, like Kobuk, 65, require one-year terms of service.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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