The lengths to which some potential jurors go to avoid jury duty was shown when a woman told a Bronx, N.Y., court in 2008 that she could not serve on a murder case.
Why? Because, she claimed, she had been a murder victim herself. And well, yes, she’d gotten better, but still …
She was dismissed, on other grounds.
Bruce Moran, the deputy administrator for Pierce County Superior Courts, says the average number of jurors who report from those summoned is “between 15-20 percent.”
Why so low?
“There are always summons that come back ‘undeliverable,’ there are nonrespondents and those who are legitimately excused,” Moran said. “About 5 percent of those summoned don’t qualify and then a large percentage postpones jury duty.”
A few ask to be excused for perfectly valid reasons – an illness, a mother taking care of an infant.
Making it up, however, isn’t enough to get you excused.
“We require a note from their physician for a condition or illness; we require documentation for financial hardship claims,” Moran said.
Moran has heard his share of excuses from potential jurors.
“I can’t report for duty, I have too much to do.”
“You don’t want me, I’m way too opinionated.”
“I have a lunch date with my buddies each month, I can’t miss that.”
The thought of trying to avoid jury duty is so common, there are websites devoted to it. One offers advice on “how to write a jury duty excuse letter.”
Another site offers the Top 20 best excuses to try, including No. 13:
“Buddhists get off jury duty – My friend, a Buddhist, has gotten off jury duty three times just by being Buddhist. It’s against his religion to pass judgment on others.”
In Washington, potential jurors are selected from voter registration and driver’s license lists. If you’re selected, most courts pay $10 a day, and you can get mileage reimbursement.
Stacy Colberg, the Gig Harbor Municipal Court administrator, has heard the occasional odd response to a jury summons.
“We had one gentleman who called us and said he couldn’t serve because he was blind,” she said. “We asked if he could have someone fill out the form for him. He said he could not – everyone he knew could read, but none of them could write.”
In Roy, the excuse heard most often is legitimate and involves transportation problems getting to court.
“There’s no bus service out to Roy,” said Mindy Elie, the Roy court administrator.
In Pierce County, however, the clear leader in strange jury duty excuses is Lakewood. Municipal Court administrator Deana Wright has had to deal with all manner of silliness.
“One man wrote that he would not serve on a jury because he did not recognize Lakewood as a city,” Wright said.
“We had one gentleman say he had a condition where he had to urinate every 15 minutes, and said the judge would have to excuse him to do so,” she said. “We had another man who asked to be excused saying he had ‘explosive’ bowel movements.”
Then there was a woman who said she couldn’t possibly serve on a jury and leave her dogs home alone.
And the jurors who do serve?
“The majority of people, after their jury experience is over, realize it’s been a meaningful thing,” Moran said. “It is a sacrifice, but it’s one we all have to make to keep our system strong. We are the cornerstone of the world’s jury system.”
Still, there are those who want no part of it. One of the more popular attempts to get out of jury duty, apparently, is to threaten prejudice going in.
“We had a man who wrote, ‘I’m sick of this BLEEP! I’ll serve, but I’m going to find everyone guilty!’ ” Wright said.
And there are those who choose to serve but probably haven’t thought the whole process out.
“One potential juror coming through our metal detector had mini-bar sized bottles of alcohol hidden in his socks,” Wright said. “When they were taken away from him, he asked if he could take them into court.
“When he was told no, he said: ‘That’s going to be a problem.’
“That story made us all laugh.”
Occasionally, the juror summoned to court has a perfectly valid excuse for not accepting.
“In 2002, we somehow sent a jury summons to Ernest Teller,” Wright said. “He’s our judge.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 firstname.lastname@example.org