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Philly gives up on no-show jurors' court

The "scofflaw juror" court will be discontinued due to lack of effectiveness, said the city's commissioner of juries.
An empty jury panel.Metro file photo

Philadelphia has a problem getting its citizens to respond to jury duty summons, and now it's even given up on one attempt at solving the problem.

"Scofflaw juror court," a special program held in the Criminal Justice Center to punish people who ignored jury summonses, has been discontinued due to a lack of success.

"From what we could see, it really didn't increase our response rate," said Jury Commissioner Daniel Rendine. "The only real results we got were a lot more phone calls from people trying to see, 'Am Ischeduled for jury duty?'and making sure they got their excuses right."

At scofflaw jurorcourt, which was resurrected two years ago,individuals who pleaded guilty to skipping court got a $50 fine, while others who contested their cases could faceup to a $100 fine —and a fresh summons for jury duty. All the jury-duty skippers got a day in court and a talk from a judge about the importance of their service.

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About 35 percent of the people in Philly who receive summons do not respond or show up at court.

So out of 545,000 jury summons issued in 2015, about 175,000 people did not respond.

​About 14 percent of the people show up and sit in court, either to be picked for a jury panel or to be thanked and sent home. The remainder are excused from service for legitimate reasons.

"It's a huge problem," Rendine admitted. "We haveto pursue other ways. ...We need to make it better."

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Rendine listed a partnership with the Philadelphia Bar Association, a campaign of public service announcements, and more education of the publicas possible tactics to improve the response rate.

"It's a shame that people don't want to participate in a process that's so vital our system of justice," said criminal defense attorney Jim Berardinelli ."We’re obviously stillgetting juries — we’re able to try all the cases — but in terms of how many are not showing up, Ihad no idea it was that low. It just shows a level of apathy that is disappointing."

People who do not respond to jury summonses can face up to a $500 fine, as well as up to 10 days in jail.

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