Once wrote: "They also serve who only stand...

AS JOHN MILTON

January 14, 1995

AS JOHN MILTON once wrote: "They also serve who only stand and wait."

That undoubtedly applies to many of the 55,000 Baltimore County citizens summoned each year for jury duty.

Even if they never are selected to sit in a jury trial, they fulfill a purpose. It is to goad plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases or prosecutors and defendants in criminal cases to make a deal, to plea bargain, to settle out of court or to avoid jury trials that by their very nature are time-consuming and costly.

In between Christmas and New Year's, a couple hundred countians who had been summoned at 9 a.m. on Dec. 29 called a prescribed telephone number the day before. Those with the 111 lowest numbers were told to call again at 11 a.m. on the prescribed day in case they were needed at 12.30 p.m.

Just before that witching hour, it was later learned, the prospects were bright that all the jurors would be excused. But two parties slated for circuit court balked, and all 111 jurors were told to report. When they did, and collected $15 apiece for their service, at a total cost of $1,665 to the county, they were told that the balkers had settled after all.

A court official added, however, that the prospective jurors had to hang around anyway until 4 p.m. in case any defendants in a number of district court cases insisted on trial by jury. For if a jury were not available, some defendants would be tempted to prolong matters. The assembled jurors were a mighty army.

And so, for over three hours, 111 Baltimore countians read books, tapped laptops, watched TV or yak-yaked in what was supposed to be a "quiet room." Then, without having seen the inside of a courtroom, they were dismissed having dutifully fulfilled Milton's prescription.

* * *

ORANGE AND grapefruit trees leading productive lives in the winter months -- in Maryland?

Yes, a 300-tree citrus grove is flourishing inside the controlled greenhouses of the U.S. Agriculture Department's research center in Beltsville.

Well, not exactly flourishing; these specimens have been purposely infected by scientists with potent viruses from around the world.

The aim is to develop disease-resistant strains of oranges and grapefruit and to study how devastating viruses are transmitted -- all distant enough from commercial growing states to prevent the hazard of an accidental escape.

Plant pathologists are concentrating on the brown citrus aphid, a tiny bug that feeds on new citrus growth and infects the tree with quick-killing citrus tristeza virus. The menacing aphid has // been found in Cuba and scientists believe it could soon spread to nearby Florida.

So the work in Maryland's greenhouse citrus groves is all the more urgent, if the nation is to avoid going without its morning glass of liquid sunshine.

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