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Workshops Give Courts Forum to Examine Effective Juror Management

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The potential trauma of high profile trials, the ubiquity of social media, tactics for reaching the plugged-in generation, and tips for maximizing jurors called for service in federal courts highlighted a recent workshop for court staff. It was the latest in juror management and utilization workshops—this one for small to medium district courts—organized by the Federal Judicial Center.

“Every court is different,” said FJC Education Specialist Richard Marshall, who organized the workshop. “Some courts deal with distances where jurors drive five hours to the court. Some struggle to have a diverse jury pool. Others have issues with people ignoring summons. Jury recommendations that work in one court might not in another. For example, sharing jury pools may be an option in a court with five judges, but not one where there are fewer judges. There’s an incredibly wide range of issues.”

The workshop, one in an ongoing series, provided a forum for courts to share practices and improve how they summon and make use of jurors. The workshops’ effectiveness, combined with a renewed focus by the Judicial Conference Court Administration and Case Management Committee on best practices for jury selection, might be measured in improved juror usage rates. For calendar year 2011, the percentage of jurors not selected, serving or challenged (NSSC) on the first day of jury service dropped to 36.8 from a high of 40.1 percent in 2009. Fifty-seven district courts improved their percentage of jurors NSSC in the last year, including nine of the 11 courts who participated in an FJC workshop held in March 2011.

Sixteen courts took part in this year’s workshop, with clerks or deputy clerks of court, jury administrators, and many chief judges participating.

Panel discussions covered many topics outside the realm of summoning rates and one-step or two-step jury systems. Participants talked about how to prevent jurors’ use of social media during trials, how to accommodate Gen X, Y and Z jurors accustomed to gathering and receiving news on demand, how to balance the security and privacy of jurors versus the media’s request for disclosure of names and information, and how to help jurors and staff who may be traumatized by violent or disturbing exhibits or testimony. While a juror going on the web to conduct research is a problem, the workshop also highlighted technology, such as E-Juror, that makes it easier for potential jurors to get information and respond to questionnaires online.

Good juror utilization is, in part, a matter of conserving resources—and appreciation. Workshop teams suggested reaching out to employers to recognize that they contribute to juror participation by accommodating employees called for jury service. Judges and jury administrators also were asked to put themselves in the shoes of jurors and understand the time commitment jury service requires and the effort would-be jurors must make.

“If a case settles or a defendant pleads guilty after the jury has been brought in, I like to go to the jury assembly room, explain what happened and tell them that we do everything we can to avoid their being called in when they aren’t needed, but sometimes that is unavoidable,” said Judge Catherine Perry (E.D. Mo.), who headed a workshop panel on juror management challenges. “I always let the people called for duty know that, although they were not selected for the jury in this case, their participation has been very important. We know that jury duty is often an inconvenience. But if it weren’t for citizens like them, our system of justice in this country literally could not function. On behalf of the whole court and on behalf of the justice system, I thank them for doing their duty as citizens.”