Judge vows jail time for three if they skip jury duty again

Monthly hearings planned to handle city scofflaws

April 21, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge reprimanded three people yesterday for not showing up for jury duty this year, ordering them to appear for a day's service in June or serve time in jail.

Judge John C. Themelis, who oversees the city's jurors, also said he plans to hold monthly hearings to deal with the growing problem of deadbeat jurors, estimated to be in the hundreds each day.

"You are going to appear for jury duty," Themelis told the three jurors. "And if you don't show up, you will be detained until I see you, and then I'll put you in jail."

Each said they would show up June 14 for service, and Themelis dismissed their cases.

As the city struggles with crime, its overburdened courts are saddled with a shrinking jury pool and an increasingly apathetic population.

On an average day when court is in session, officials summon 800 residents to fill the jury pool for trials. If they're lucky, about 230 of them will appear.

"The truth is we rely on our pool of jurors so heavily, we can't make it optional," Themelis said. "There has to be [something] with regard to enforcement or we'd never get jurors in here."

The three no-show jurors facing Themelis yesterday failed to show up for duty in January during the jury selection process for the death-penalty case of Jovan House, convicted in the killing of Detective Thomas Newman. Each of the three reported for duty one day but did not return the following day to finish jury selection, despite an order from the trial judge, Albert J. Matricciani.

The three no-shows were brought in yesterday on a show-cause order at Matricciani's request.

Juror Gloria Bell, 64, told Themelis she didn't return for duty because she thought Matricciani had dismissed her.

Bonnie Bunch, 46, told Themelis that she left at lunch and didn't return because she had urinated on herself and wanted to change her clothes.

And Dontae Bryant, 24, offered no excuse.

"They were pretty pathetic examples," Themelis said yesterday after the hearing. "I couldn't see fining them, especially the older lady."

According to Jury Commissioner Marilyn L. Tokarski, Bell had appeared for jury duty six times in the past; Bryant had never been summoned before; and Bunch had failed to appear once before.

Themelis said he thought the threat of jail time was more potent than a fine.

"What I said is gospel," Themelis said. "If they don't come in next time, I really will lock them up."

This was Themelis' first hearing for no-show jurors. He took over as jury judge in November.

In the past, Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock, who oversaw Baltimore's jurors from 1999 through last year, periodically summoned some of the worst no-shows to a special hearing. She said she never sent anyone to jail but once fined a missing juror $700.

Themelis said when he begins holding monthly hearings for deadbeat jurors, he is prepared to fine them or lock them up.

After the hearing, Bunch said that although she has never appeared for jury duty, the idea of serving doesn't bother her.

"I wouldn't mind serving," she said. "As long as if I do it and the person gets out, they don't try to kill me."

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