Addressing jurors' complaints of being called for duty too often, Baltimore's Circuit Court is seeking permission to draft jurors from driver registration records in addition to the current source of city voter rolls.
The request to the Court of Appeals by the city Circuit Court's Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan would increase the number of potential jurors by more than 50 percent and -- at the same time -- make it harder for Baltimoreans to dodge the citizen obligation of jury duty.
Currently, court officials said yesterday, the pool of potential jurors in Baltimore is limited to the city's approximately 337,500 registered voters -- people who in most instances may be called for duty once a year.
The problem for those who have served, according to Deputy Jury Commission Marilyn Tokarski, is that after a year their names are put back into the computer and they have the same chance of being called on as do those who have never spent a day in court.
"We might have a person who gets by for five years without
being called again, and some people who get called every year," Ms. Tokarski said, expressing hope that the addition of 190,000 names of city residents from state Motor Vehicle Administration records would make annual calls for jury duty less likely.
"We've had people tell us, 'You won't get me next year,' because they say they're going to take their names off the voter registration list," she said.
According to court officials, a few other jurisdictions have received permission to merge voter and driver registration lists for their jury pools -- but Baltimore would become the largest in Maryland and the first in the metropolitan area to do so should the request be approved by the Court of Appeals, which is Maryland's highest court.
The city Circuit Court, with six civil courts and 11 criminal courts, has the largest demand for jurors in Maryland -- calling in at least 270 people a day in order to get "a yield of 135" who are qualified and available, Judge Kaplan said.
Those accepted for jury duty in the city serve for just one day or one trial -- a system that minimizes the time involved for most people, but requires bringing in a new group of potential jurors to the courthouse every working day.
Pay is $10 a day
Jurors are paid $10 a day for their trouble -- whether they are unemployed laborers or corporate executives.
Some are reimbursed by their employers for the difference in wages; others simply must bear the financial burden of losing a day's pay or more.
Ms. Tokarski said the $10 jury pay provided by the city government "was probably considered a fair amount of money" in years past.
Adding an estimated 190,000 names from MVA listings would make it unlikely that anyone would be called more than once every two to 2 1/2 years, Judge Kaplan said. "We'll cut down on the complaints we're constantly getting, 'I just served last year and you're calling me again.'
"It lightens the burden on our existing jurors, and at the same time
it's fairer -- it makes more of the population carry out this obligation."
Judge Kaplan said the legislature had annually considered requiring all jurisdictions to include driver registration lists in juror pools, but that he had fought against it because of the cost of merging the two lists and an expectation that the increase in names would be slight -- perhaps 3 percent or 4 percent.
Voters outnumber drivers
"Baltimore City had more voters than drivers, which is not the case in most other jurisdictions," Judge Kaplan said.
"But now we know there are so many people who don't register to vote to avoid serving on a jury, that we'll pick up not 3 or 4 percent but almost 50 percent."
He said the city would pay the cost of about $12,000 to $13,000 for computer services to purge the drivers' list of those younger than 18 and eliminate duplications with voter rolls, while the state would provide other computer programming work worth about $40,000 -- assuming the request is approved.
"Hopefully they'll approve it," Judge Kaplan said, adding that the change would take place in September.