Opinion

Jury duty in Pierce County should be treated with all due respect

Garold Johnson is presiding judge for Pierce County Superior Court.
Garold Johnson is presiding judge for Pierce County Superior Court.

On behalf of the Pierce County Superior Court, I want to respond to a recent attempt at a humorous opinion piece in The News Tribune. (“Yippee, a jury summons! 5 things that make Pierce County jury duty a memorable staycation,” Five Spot column, 9/7).

It included a photo of Charlie from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” holding a winning golden ticket.

Two days after the piece appeared in the paper, the Pierce County Superior Court brought in 220 jurors for three different criminal trials involving allegations of rape, child molestation and extortion.

The day after that, an additional 60 jurors were needed for a case involving attempted child rape in the 2nd degree.

We currently do not have enough jurors to fill all trial needs.

Jurors in these cases will be asked to hear difficult and emotionally draining testimony and will do so in a very stressful environment. Very little about what we ask them to do will be humorous and they should be commended for their sacrifice and willingness to serve.

Like every court in the State of Washington, Pierce County Superior Court struggles daily with low juror turnout. We endeavor to educate the public, make the process interesting and combat the disrespectful, disinterested and uninformed view of jury service that your opinion piece promotes.

Jury duty is certainly an imposition. It is also a solemn, civic responsibility. Yet jury service is far more than an obligation. It is an opportunity for each of us to participate in our system of justice.

And for all of us to bring to reality the fundamental goals of a justice system that is truly of the people, for the people and by the people (Abraham Lincoln - Gettysburg address).

Jury service enables each one of us to provide justice for the parties before the court in both civil and criminal matters. Jurors directly decide the facts and apply the law to the cases before them. Thus, it is perhaps the most direct involvement an average citizen not elected to office can have in our democracy.

Indeed, the right to trial by jury is one of our most sacred constitutional rights and the cornerstone of American democracy. In many countries around the world, citizens can only dream of the right to trial by jury.

Certainly, jury service can be demanding for those who serve. It takes time away from family, employment and other responsibilities. Many jurors must deal with the lack of financial resources to cover child care or care for an elderly person in their home, which can be very difficult.

Consequently, every juror who has served and all jurors who serve in the future deserve our sincere respect and gratitude.

In the future, we hope the TNT will work with us to educate the public about the importance of jury duty, not against us.

Garold E. Johnson is presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court and has served on the court since 2011.

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