By Kayla Hampton | kayla.m.hampton@wmich.edu

The rate of citizens who were called to the district courts of west Michigan for jury duty, but who were not chosen to serve on a jury panel, increased by 5.4 percent in 2011, said a report generated by the clerk’s office of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

This means that 390 individuals made changes to their schedules, such as taking time off from work, arranging for childcare, and preparing for transportation conflicts only to be told that their services would not be needed, the report said. While some Americans still view jury duty as an important part of the U.S. Judicial System, Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge Pamela Lightvoet said many others are beginning to view the civil obligation as an inconvenient and flawed system.

Lightvoet has worked with many juries over the years and said that she has developed the ability to determine which jurors wish they were anywhere but in a court room just by looking at them.

“I just had a person last week who refused to raise her right hand when the jury was taking their oath and being sworn in,” Lightvoet said. “I usually give a little speech before I excuse them. I say that serving on a jury isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s not a waste of time and it’s sad that some people feel that way.”

Jury Duty a Hassle for Some Employees

Karen Major, who was summoned for jury duty in Paw Paw a year ago, said that she would have taken her duties as a juror seriously if she had been chosen for the panel, but that her actual experience was unfortunately inconvenient and disruptive.

“When I got called, I only had to go in for two days, but I was on call for two weeks” said Major, a resident of Mattawan. “Early on the first day, they told me what I would have to do if I was chosen for the jury and then I sat around and read my book the rest of the time.”

Major, an administrative assistant for Fresenius, a medical equipment company in downtown Kalamazoo, said the most difficult aspect of being on call for jury duty was the impact it had on her job.

“At work, I had to find a potential replacement for myself in case I did wind up getting called to serve on the jury. And this all happened towards the end of the month and at my job, that’s the busiest time. It was a real hassle,” Major said.

Monetary Compensation an Issue

Jackson Peebles, a 20-year-old Junior at Western Michigan University, served on a jury for a sexual criminal conduct case last summer and, while he said his time in the courtroom was interesting, it was a mixed experience overall.

“I was given the option to defer my jury duty until a day when I did not have school, but that’s not very convenient and I didn’t want it looming over my head, so I went ahead with the original date,” Peebles said. “The waiting time was ridiculous, too. The process really needs to be more streamlined.”

The student also feels that the monetary compensation provided to jury members needs to be reevaluated.

“The pay is only meant to compensate expenses, and it doesn’t even do that. You even have to pay for parking,” Peebles said. “As a student, this was difficult for me, but I was looking forward to jury duty, and it’s a legal obligation, so I complied.”

While Peebles admits that there are flaws in the jury system, he also believes that it is an integral part of the nation’s democracy.

“It’s essential because even though judges are very educated, a consensus must be reached by a jury when making a decision that affects an individual’s life in such a drastic way,” Peebles said. “This protects the innocent and allows a diverse range of views to be.”

A Judge’s Opinion

Lightvoet agrees that jury duty is an essential part of U.S. law and said that more

American citizens need to view it as a privilege rather than a burdensome obligation.

“People are required to comply with jury duty under the Constitution, obviously, but it is also such an important responsibility,” Lightvoet said. “When you have a criminal case in particular, it’s good to put the decision in more than one person’s hands.”

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