City jurors merit better treatment

January 17, 2002|By Frank M. Conaway

FOR ALL of us, our selection for service on a jury panel is the fulfillment of an obligation for citizens who possess both integrity and good judgment.

Through service on a jury, we participate directly in the administration of justice.

But it has become increasingly clear that jury service for the citizens of Baltimore City means an ever-increasing monetary sacrifice and working conditions that may cause undue impatience and breed irritation, if not outright resentment, toward the court system.

My fear is that all of these conditions could manifest themselves in hurried verdicts and incomplete justice.

It is essential that the officials in Maryland and Baltimore City (who share responsibility for funding our jury office) work together to improve this situation.

I know the true satisfaction of serving as a juror lies in the knowledge that we have performed one of the highest duties of citizenship.

As such, it is not my intention to try to reward jurors for their contribution, only to ensure that they are adequately compensated for their time and expense.

We should not expect jurors to perform this function as a sacrifice.

For example, the $15 reimbursement for juror expenses is no longer adequate.

Federal jurors receive $40 a day, plus travel expenses. It is essential that the amount provided to reimburse jurors for expenses be increased to reflect the reality of paying for parking and buying lunch at the high rates charged by downtown venders.

Other large jurisdictions provide free parking in addition to payments to the jurors.

In addition, the jury assembly area must be enlarged and modernized to reflect the increased level of trial activity in Baltimore City brought about by the increasing number of criminal court cases and the presence of large and complex asbestos cases.

Seating arrangements are cramped, lavatories are completely inadequate for the number of jurors called each day and only a few vending machines are available to provide some relief throughout what could be (if not called for court) a very long and boring day for jurors. Also, a lack of well-designed courtroom facilities ensures that jurors could, at times, interact with defendants and their families, which could lead to undue influence upon decision-making.

When I was last selected for service as a juror (I seem to be called at least annually), I raised my right hand and solemnly pledged that I would well give a verdict according to the evidence. This pledge means that all of us who serve on a jury panel will hear and consider the evidence carefully and render a true verdict.

Once the oath is taken, a juror becomes part of the court. As such, it is only fair that we provide jurors the same privileges and respect that we give to judges and other officers of the court.

First-class citizens do not deserve second-class treatment.

Frank M. Conaway is clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

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