Persuading Philadelphians to show up for jury duty has long been a nagging problem.
This week, city courts are trying to make jury duty a little more appealing and a bit more fun with Phillies mascot the Phanatic and championship-winning Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright greeting potential jurors at court on Monday.
“After a clumsy trip through building security with subpoena in hand, the Phillie Phanatic arrived, on-time, for his first day as a prospective juror in Philadelphia County,” court officials said in a news release.
The event was the first day of “Juror Appreciation Week,” which also will initiate the return of “daily continental breakfasts for all prospective jurors.”
The question is whether the Phanatic and more “juror appreciation” can make more people show up and serve as neutral finders of fact at trial—rather than just ripping up the letter.
Philly has long faced atrocious juror attendance rates. Recent records indicate that roughly 35 percent of citizens don’t even respond to juror summonses, according to court officials. While about half are excused for legitimate reasons, that means only about 13 to 18 percent of the 500,000-plus citizens summoned to serve on juries show up.
“Scofflaw juror court,” an attempt by the courts at sparking participation through discipline, was briefly resurrected in 2014 to punish people who ignored jury summonses with small fines and the threat of worse. But the program was ditched after two years for showing not a dent in the participation rate.
Now, the courts seem to be taking a more positive approach.
Court of Common Pleas President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper attended Juror Appreciation Day to thank those who did answer the call.
“While jury service is often unheralded, it is one of the keystones of American democracy,” Woods-Skipper said. “For their contributions to democracy, those who serve as jurors deserve our respect and gratitude."