One-day, one-trial system for jury duty proposed

October 15, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

State Del. Martin Madden, R-13B, spent four weeks on jury duty last year without ever being impaneled.

That's too long a wait for any prospective juror, he says. So he has come up with a plan that, if approved by the state legislature this winter, will limit the wait in the Howard County Circuit Court to one day.

"This is a good news day for civic-minded citizens of Howard County," Mr. Madden said yesterday. His bill would release everyone not needed for jury duty at noon on the day they are summoned and send them home with $10. Those who remain would be paid $20 a day and would be excused as soon as the trial they are assigned to ends.

Under the current four-week system, prospective jurors are told to report eight times during a four-week period and are paid $20 for each appearance.

Mr. Madden estimates his plan would save the county $50,000 to $70,000 a year.

It would also cover the cost of a hiring a clerk to help administer the one-day, one-trial system, he said.

Having people serve on one jury only and then go home is an added benefit of his proposal, Mr. Madden says. Under the present system, a person can be impaneled several times during a four-week period, since the average trial lasts is 1 1/2 to 2 days.

When Mr. Madden was called for jury duty last January, he asked for and was granted a postponement until after the end of the General Assembly legislative session.

But "when I arrived for jury duty for the four-week period, I quickly learned what an onerous time demand it is," he said. "Having to report eight different days over a four week period causes tremendous scheduling difficulties for all of us, given the time demands of modern society."

A one-day, one-trial system could lead to less requests for exemptions and postponments from professional people like doctors and and lawyers, Mr. Madden said. It could also increase the number of registered voters.

"During my door-to-door campaign, I met literally hundreds of citizens who didn't want to register to vote because of the possibility of being called to jury duty," Mr. Madden said. "By reducing the number of reporting days and the four-week time period, I hope to remove an obstacle to citizen participation in our civic process."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Circuit Court Clerk Margaret D. Rappaport agreed.

Teachers who now ask for exemptions or postponements might be willing to serve if they knew the commitment was for one day, rather than four weeks, Mr. Ecker said. He said he had to ask for a postponement several years ago when he received a summons during budget time while serving as the school system's chief financial officer.

Ms. Rappaport said the four-week, eight-day trial system "was a major issue in my campaign. People continually asked me to do what I could to get it changed."

Jury Clerk Steven T. Merson said he estimates that fewer than 5 percent of the people summoned would ask for exemptions or postponements if the one-day, one-trial system was implemented.

Mr. Merson said he receives about 40 phone calls a day for every 300 jury notices he sends out, all asking for postponements and exemptions. About 10 percent of those people have their requests granted, he said.

Mr. Madden said he would have aired his bill earlier, but the staff person who worked on it was called to jury duty in the county and was unable to complete the bill until now.

He said he expects no difficulty getting two-thirds of the Legislature to approve the bill as emergency legislation so it can take effect immediately upon adjournment next spring.

The bill will come before the General Assembly rather than the County Council because the Circuit Court is a state agency.

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